A general view shows buildings under construction in the Israeli settlement of Har Homa in annexed east Jerusalem, on March 7, 2016 with the West Bank city of Bethlehem in the backgroundA general view shows buildings under construction in the Israeli settlement of Har Homa in annexed east Jerusalem, on March 7, 2016 with the West Bank city of Bethlehem in the background (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)
Jerusalem (AFP) - The number of West Bank settlements Israel plans to build more than tripled in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same period last year, an Israeli NGO said Tuesday.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now said in a statement that between January and March, projects for 674 housing units passed at least one of the steps in the planning approval process, up from 194 in the first quarter of 2015.
Settlement building projects must pass through five administrative stages before winning final approval from Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, Peace Now spokeswoman Hagit Ofran told AFP.
The statement said that in all of 2015, planning for 1,665 homes moved forward, "a substantial decrease from 2014, during which 8,606 new housing units had been promoted."
"But since the start of 2016 the trend has been completely reversed," Ofran said.
Israel seized the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. It later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.
The settlements are considered illegal under international law and are seen as major stumbling blocks to peace efforts since they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
"The figures for 2016 show that the government of (Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu is quietly continuing settlement activity with the aim of rendering impossible the implementation of two states -- Israeli and Palestinian -- and therefore peace between the two peoples," Ofran said.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas meanwhile spoke in an interview with AFP of the pressing need for a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements.
The Palestinians have begun circulating a draft of such a resolution.
"It has now become urgent due to settlement activities and because Israel has not stopped these activities," Abbas said late Monday at his office in Ramallah.
Settlement construction in the West Bank "is something that has seriously jeopardised the two-state project," he said.
Abbas left on Tuesday at the start of a two-week tour that will take him to Turkey, France, Russia, Germany and New York.