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EU Criticizes Israeli Settlements

The European Union has expressed concern about Israel's decision to approve new settler homes in the occupied West Bank.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Swedish EU presidency said settlements are illegal under international law and "constitute an obstacle to peace."

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday approved the construction of 455 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The move was criticized by Palestinian officials.

The EU on Tuesday reiterated its call on Israel to immediately end settlement activities.

In other news, a new United Nations report finds the economy of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has hit an all-time low.

The report by the U.N. Conference for Trade and Development says the economy of the Palestinian territories faces unprecedented challenges, including rising unemployment. The U.N. says nearly 60 percent of Palestinians live in poverty and cites Israel's closure policy and blockade of Gaza for the economic decline.

U.N. economists say an already dire situation was made worse by Israel's military incursion into Gaza at the end of last year, which was launched in response to Palestinian militant rocket attacks.

The U.N. report says the devastation of Gaza and its economy has plunged 1.5 million Palestinians into unprecedented levels of poverty.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.