Israel has approved over 12,000 West Bank homes in 2020, a record high for Jewish building in occupied Palestinian territory, settlement watchdog Peace Now said Thursday.
The announcement came after a defence ministry planning committee approved plans for 4,948 more homes during a two-day meeting held Wednesday and Thursday, Peace Now said.
"These approvals make 2020 the highest year on record in terms of units in settlement plans promoted since Peace Now began recording in 2012," Peace Now said in a statement.
"The count so far is 12,159 units approved in 2020," it added, noting that the committee might hold another round of approvals before the end of the year.
"While de jure annexation may be suspended, the de facto annexation of settlement expansion is clearly continuing," Peace Now said.
"These recent approvals put to rest any speculation about a de facto settlement freeze."
UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov said the latest approvals were "of great concern to all those who remain committed to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace," and "undermine the prospect of achieving a viable two-state solution".
"Settlement construction is illegal under international law and is one of the major obstacles to peace," he said in a statement, calling on Israel to immediately cease all settlement-related activities.
Yesha Council, which represents settlers throughout the West Bank, expressed "joy" over the approvals.
"Construction cannot be a bargaining chip in peace agreements or other issues," the organisation said.
"Construction needs to freely continue in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, without conditions or diplomatic approval, like in the rest of the country," it said, using terms many in Israel use to refer to the West Bank.
The Palestinians and neighbouring Jordan on Wednesday condemned the recent approvals.
A controversial plan he unveiled in January gave US blessing to Israeli annexation of large chunks of the West Bank, including the settlements, communities considered illegal under international law.
Excluding annexed east Jerusalem, more than 450,000 Israelis live in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, alongside some 2.7 million Palestinians.
*This story was edited by Ahram Online.