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Jan 30, 9:47 AM EST

Ahead of election, Israel issues West Bank building tenders

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JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's settlement watchdog group said Friday that the government has issued hundreds of tenders for housing units in the West Bank, an area the Palestinians demand for their future state, a move that comes several weeks before Israel's national election.

Peace Now said on Friday that 450 tenders have been issued.

Hagit Ofran of Peace Now accused the Israeli government of "trying to create facts on the ground ahead of the election."

A senior Israel government official said the current batch of tenders is actually a group of old unpurchased tenders that are being reissued.

"Contrary to reports there has been no authorization for new construction," the official said anonymously in line with protocol. "This is merely the automatic recycling of construction procedure for housing units announced over a year ago during negotiations with Palestinians which were known to all parties, no new housing units have been authorized or added."

The March 17 elections are widely seen as a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hawkish government.

Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians are demanding the area as part of their future state along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

The international community considers all settlements built in that territory, including those sanctioned by the government, to be illegal.

The Palestinians condemned the new tenders. "With the escalation of its illegal settlement activities, the Israeli government is once again exposing its true intentions of creating `Greater Israel' at the expense of the strategic requirements for peace," Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said.

Many Israelis oppose withdrawing from the territory because of its religious and historic significance for many devout Jews, who see the areas as their biblical heartland and heritage. Others maintain a withdrawal would pose a serious security risk. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005. Hamas later took control and escalated attacks on Israel from the territory.

U.S.-mediated peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians aimed at a two-state solution that would mean Israeli withdrawals from territory, collapsed last year in part over Jewish settlements.

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