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Israel advances plans for 1,213 new West Bank settlement homes

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has announced plans to press ahead with construction of 1,213 homes on annexed West Bank land, defying international opposition to its settlement policies.

The Israel Land Administration on Monday published notices inviting bids from contractors to build on plots in Ramot and Pisgat Zeev, urban settlements that Israel has declared part of Jerusalem.

The plans call for the building of 607 new homes in Pisgat Zeev and 606 in Ramot. Tens of thousands of Israelis already live in the two areas.

The Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now said on Tuesday that an additional tender for the construction of 72 homes in the West Bank settlement of Ariel was reissued on Monday after a previous notice failed to attract winning bidders.

Palestinians want to create a state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital but they say Israeli settlement building will cripple the viability of any future country.

Israel cites historical and Biblical links to the West Bank, which it captured in a 1967 war. Some 500,000 settlers and about 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Most countries consider settlements Israel has built in occupied territory as illegal under international law.

Mohammed Shtayyeh, a member of the central committee of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, said the decision to expand settlements "is another reason why Palestine must go to the United Nations" to seek an upgrade of its status to non-member state.

"We call upon the world to respond to this systematic Israeli policy with an overwhelming vote of support for the enhancement of Palestine's observer-state status," Shtayyeh said, accusing Israel of trying "to thwart international efforts to achieve peace".

Israel and the United States oppose the unilateral Palestinian move, and have called on Abbas to return to peace talks that collapsed in 2010 over the settlement issue.

A status upgrade at the United Nations would grant the Palestinians access to bodies such as the International Criminal Court, where they could file complaints against Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting of top cabinet members on Tuesday to discuss possible Israeli punitive measures against Abbas's Palestinian Authority in response to the U.N. bid.

(Writing by Ori Lewis, Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

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