Extremist Israeli minister Smotrich vows to push back on with West Bank 'settlement freeze'
Israel's Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has vowed to continue illegal settlement building in the occupied West Bank, in defiance of a pledge by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze construction.
Smotrich reportedly told lawmakers from his far-right Religious Zionism party in a Knesset meeting on Monday: "Construction [of settlements] in the West Bank will continue. The planning will continue."
The vow came after Israel's decisions last week to approve the construction of some 10,000 units in the occupied West Bank and take steps to legalise nine outposts was met with international backlash.
The US and several European governments condemned the move, while the UN Security Council expressed its deep dismay at the plans through a statement issued on Monday.
The criticisms prompted Netanyahu’s office to issue a statement saying it would not be building any new settlements or legalise existing units beyond the nine approved last week, Haaretz reported.
Israel elected its most far-right government ever in November last year. Netanyahu appointed ministers from extreme-right groups who have called for violence against Palestinians and for illegal settlement construction to be accelerated, among them Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with East Jerusalem and the besieged Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The United Nations and most of the international community consider Israeli settlements illegal and an obstacle to ending the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Some 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem in violation of international law.