Israeli settlers on Sunday started expanding the Rechalim settlement, illegally built on lands confiscated from farmers of the northern villages of Yatma and As-Sawiya south of Nablus, officials said.
Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian Authority official who monitors settlement activity in the northern West Bank, told Ma’an that bulldozers began digging this morning. He explained that settlers from Rechalim occupied hundreds of acres.
Daghlas added that the land belonged to families from the As-Sawiya and Yatma villages. He identified some of the landowners as the Abu Dola, Abu Salih, Abu Shahin, Albeik, and Hajj Suleiman families.
An Israeli settler leader says the work is being conducted within the boundaries of Rechelim.
The area has been utilised by the residents of the settlement for years and is now being cleaned out and re-arranged, David Ha’ivri, the director of the Shomron Liaison Office, told Ma’an.
“If residents of neighbouring villages claim to have legal ownership of lands within the Jewish communities in the Shomron, I welcome them to present their documentation,” he added.
The expansion came as West Bank settlers and their supporters converged on Jerusalem to protest a possible freeze in construction, as proposed by the US in order to get peace talks going again.
The demonstration, which took place opposite the Prime Minister’s Office as the cabinet was meeting inside, was a “warning” strike against accepting the freeze, settler leaders warned.
Under the terms of the US proposal, Israel will suspend construction at its West Bank settlements for three months, so as to get the peace talks out of the limbo they have been in since a previous Israeli construction freeze expired nearly two months ago and was not renewed.
President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted the talks will not resume until and unless Israel renews the freeze.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is believed to be in favour of accepting the proposal, despite the objections of many in his government, including around half the parliamentary caucus of his nationalist Likud Party.