JERUSALEM, June 11 (Xinhua) -- Israel has approved this year the largest number of new homes in West Bank settlements since 1992, a top Israeli minister said Sunday, in defiance of requests by the United States.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman revealed these figures at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, as he commented on the massive pressures exerted by leaders of the settlement movement to lift all restrictions on the expansion of the settlements.
Lieberman said that plans for 8,345 new housing units were approved since Jan. 1. Some 3,066 of these homes received a final approval allowing their construction to begin.
He noted that last week alone, 3,651 new housing units were approved.
"The numbers for the first half of 2017 are the highest since 1992," he said. "What we've approved is the maximum that can be approved," he added, claiming that further permits would "stretch the rope beyond its limit, and thus put the entire settlement enterprise at risk."
The numbers resemble data released on Thursday by Peace Now, an Israeli human rights group that monitors the settlements.
According to the group's research, plans for 7,721 housing units were advanced since the beginning of 2017, nearly three times more their number in all 2016. While the majority of these permits refer to preexisting plans, they include construction plans from the first official settlement that is expected to build in 25 years, Peace Now said.
Lieberman's statement comes about four months after Trump asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "hold back on settlements for a little bit" to give a chance for the White House's efforts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
During his first official visit to the region last month, Trump held separate meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, vowing to bring "the ultimate deal." However, his visit was concluded without apparent immediate results.
The last round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014, mainly over the expansion of the settlements.
Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war and has since been controlling them despite wide condemnation.
The settlements are illegal under international law and are seen as a major obstacle to peace sought by the Palestinians and the international community.