The European Union has denounced Israeli plans to build hundreds of new apartments in two Jewish West Bank settlements, saying it is "deeply disappointed" in a move that threatens regional peace efforts.
The EU said Tuesday that such actions run counter to repeated efforts by the international community to achieve a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel announced Monday that it would soon issue tenders for the construction of 336 apartments in the West Bank settlements of Karnei Shomron and Betar Illit. They are part of a plan to build 6,900 housing units throughout Israel.
The German news agency (Deutsche Presse-Agentur) says bidding for the contracts will begin within 60 days, and the units are expected to be completed in three years.
Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem - areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War - are considered illegal under international law. A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton reiterated that contention on Tuesday.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed last year after the Palestinian Authority pulled out of negotiations because of Israel's refusal to extend a moratorium on settlement activity.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected efforts to restart the talks unless Israel completely freezes all settlement-building. He has instead focused his attention on a unilateral bid for statehood recognition from the United Nations in September.
Norway on Monday called the Palestinians' statehood plans "legitimate," but said negotiations with Israel must continue. Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said his government will "carefully consider" the Palestinian proposal, and would decide how to vote after seeing the full text.
Israel says settlements and the borders of a Palestinian state should be negotiated, and that the Palestinian bid would shatter efforts for an agreement.
The United States and some European Union nations have maintained that negotiations are the only way to reach a two-state solution to the conflict.