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Jerusalem (AFP) Dec 27, 2013
Israel will reveal plans to build 1,400 settler homes in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem to coincide with the weekend release of Palestinian prisoners, military radio said Friday.
A third batch of Palestinian prisoners is due to be released on Sunday as part of commitments made when US-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians were relaunched in July.
Palestinians have warned repeatedly that settlement building undermines the fragile peace process which US Secretary of State John Kerry struggled to revive after a three-year hiatus.
Military radio said 600 new housing units would be built in the existing settlement of Ramat Shlomo in mostly Arab annexed east Jerusalem, while the remainder would be constructed in West Bank settlements.
Israel has come in for repeated criticism from the United States and most of the international community for pressing ahead with a drive to build Jewish settlements on occupied land Palestinians want for their future state.
Kerry and the European Union earlier this month urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay plans to announce new settlement construction.
But Netanyahu last week said nothing would stop his government from pushing ahead with the construction.
"We will not stop, even for a moment, building our country and becoming stronger, and developing... the settlement enterprise," Netanyahu told members of his rightwing Likud party last week.
A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP Thursday that the government will announce tenders for new homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in tandem with freeing the next batch of Palestinian prisoners.
Israel agreed to free 104 Palestinians during the peace talks, and has already released 52 in two separate batches.
A third group is due to be released Sunday -- although Israeli media said they could be freed on Tuesday night -- while the remaining inmates should walk free in March 2014.
Channel 2 television reported on Thursday evening that the procedures essential to the release -- approving the names and allowing 48 hours for court petitions -- have yet to take place.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington had been told the release would take place on Monday.
"Although we had expected the release to occur on (Sunday), we have been informed that technical issues made it necessary to do the release a day later," she said.
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