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Israeli Government Lifts Ban on Return to West Bank Settlements

FILE - Jewish settlers carry a tent in the abandoned Jewish settlement of Homesh, in the northern West Bank.

The Israeli parliament on Tuesday paved the way for Jewish settlers' return to four settlements in the occupied West Bank by amending a 2005 law that ordered their evacuation in a move condemned by the Palestinian Authority and the European Union.

The repeal of certain clauses in a previous disengagement law would allow Jewish residents to return to four West Bank settlements they were ordered to vacate in 2005 on condition of approval by the Israeli military.

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Yuli Edelstein, head of the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, hailed the move as "the first and significant step towards real repair and the establishment of Israel in the territories of the homeland that belongs to it".

Since the 1967 war, Israel has established around 140 settlements on land Palestinians see as the core of a future state, where more than 500,000 settlers now live. Besides the authorized settlements, groups of settlers have built scores of outposts without government permission.

Most world powers deem settlements built in the territory Israel seized in the 1967 war as illegal under international law and their expansion as an obstacle to peace, since they eat away at land the Palestinians claim for a future state.

The parliamentary vote, one of the first major steps by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right coalition, came days after Israeli and Palestinian officials agreed on moves to curb violence and incitement amid escalating tensions.

The Palestinian Authority swiftly denounced the decision.

"This is a condemned and rejected decision and it is contrary to all resolutions of international legitimacy," Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Reuters.

In its own condemnation on Tuesday, the European Union said the Knesset decision was "counter-productive to de-escalation efforts" and "a clear step back" from a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We call on Israel to revoke this law and take actions that contribute to de-escalation of an already very tense situation," an EU spokesperson said in a statement.