JERUSALEM--Foreign ministers of four European countries and Canada joined Washington on Tuesday in opposing a decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to authorize nine Jewish settler outposts in the occupied West Bank.
The foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States issued a joint statement voicing concern over the plans announced by Israel on Sunday. "We strongly oppose unilateral actions which will only serve to exacerbate tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and undermine efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution," they said.
Later, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said Ottawa also strongly opposed the expansion of settlements and added that "such unilateral actions jeopardize efforts to achieve comprehensive, just and lasting peace."
On Sunday, Israel granted retroactive authorisation to nine settler outposts in the West Bank and announced mass construction of new homes in established settlements, prompting U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to say he was "deeply troubled."
Israel's foreign ministry had no immediate comment but Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, from the hardline religious nationalist bloc in Netanyahu's government, said he wanted to go further. "This is our mission. This is our doctrine," Ben-Gvir said. "Nine settlements is nice but it's still not enough. We want much more," he said in a video message.
Most world powers view as illegal the settlements Israel has built on land it captured in a 1967 war with Arab powers. Israel disputes that and cites biblical, historical and political links to the West Bank, as well as security interests. Since the 1967 war, it has established 132 settlements on land Palestinians see as the core of a future state, according to the Peace Now watchdog group
Besides the authorized settlements, groups of settlers have built scores of outposts without government permission. Some have been razed by police, others authorised retroactively. The nine granted approval on Sunday are the first for this Netanyahu government.
Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official, welcomed the joint statement but added: "We demand that words be turned to deeds."
With tensions in the West Bank already high, the move has alarmed world powers which fear an even greater escalation of violence. Israeli forces have conducted near daily raids in the West Bank, pursuing a crackdown begun last year in the wake of a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks.
This year more than 40 Palestinians, including both militant fighters and civilians, have been killed by Israeli forces. At the same time, 10 people have been killed in Israel in two attacks by Palestinians.