Israeli authorities had 18 homes and shops belonging to Palestinians in the West Bank demolished on Wednesday, according to Palestinian news sources, a week after the government announced the construction of hundreds of additional Israeli settlements in occupied territory.
Bulldozers razed seven buildings in the West Bank village of al-Aqaba, reported the Jordan River Solidarity Group, an activist and monitoring group. The Palestinian news site Ma'an News Agency also reported the destruction of Palestinian homes in two other villages in the West Bank's Jordan Valley.
The reported demolition of more Palestinian homes comes shortly after the Israeli government approved a special grant of $90 million (340 shekels) to build new Israeli settlements in the West Bank, reported Haaretz on Thursday. The money was earmarked in the 2015-2016 budget for the Defense and Transportation ministries to oversee the "planning and development" of Israeli settlement communities in the occupied West Bank.
Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans for the "immediate" construction of 300 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beit El and more than 500 additional units in annexed East Jerusalem.
Israel's announcement came two days before extremist Jewish settlers torched a Palestinian home, killing an infant and seriously injuring two other family members.
The settler attack provoked outrage amongst Palestinians and the international community alike, with Palestinian leaders holding the Israeli government "fully responsible for the brutal assassination" of 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsha.
But Netanyahu's vow to fight "hate, fanaticism and terrorism from whatever side" in response to the incident has done little to slow settlement expansion. The Israeli government has destroyed 294 structures and displaced 251 people so far this year, according to the watchdog group Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
In a rare rebuke, the US said they were "deeply concerned" over Israel's decision to build more settlements. "The United States continues to view settlements as illegitimate and we strongly oppose steps to advance construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem," a State Department statement read.
The European Union also condemned Israel's settlement expansion, saying in a statement that it "calls into question the Israeli government's stated commitment to a negotiated two-state solution in the Middle East Peace Process."
"We urge the government of Israel to urgently reverse recent decisions and put an end to settlement expansion," the EU added.
There are currently more than half a million Israeli settlers — or four percent of the electorate — in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as reported in the Times of Israel, with more than half described as "ultra-Orthodox" or "national religious." The Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza is approximately four million, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, with some 40 percent under the age of 14.
Much of the international community considers settlements to be illegal under international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from settling its own civilians in territory captured during war and occupied by its military.
In a 2013 report, the United Nations described Israel's settlement project as a "creeping annexation" on Palestinians' land and a violation of Palestinians' rights.