Israel has given the go-ahead for an expansion of a major Jewish settlement, despite calls from the U.S. administration for a freeze on settlement activity.

The Israeli defense ministry confirmed Monday that permission had been granted to build 600 new dwellings in the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

A spokesman for the ministry says that approval for the expansion of the settlement had been given by both the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

The settlement, known as Maale Adumim, is located close to Jerusalem and is home to 28,000 residents. The extra housing units are expected to accommodate some two-thousand more Israelis, representing a seven per cent increase in the size of the population.

Palestinians are opposed to any expansion of Jewish settlements, saying they are taking away land on which they hope to found a future independent Palestinian state.

Settlement activity is also to be frozen under the terms of the international road map for peace plan, which proposed the founding of a Palestinian state by the end of next year.

The plan is backed by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

The Israeli Cabinet earlier this year approved Mr. Sharon's plan to dismantle all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank by the end of next year.

Palestinian officials say Mr. Sharon's intention is to sacrifice settlements in the Gaza Strip, in order to strengthen Israel's hold over other large settlements in the West Bank, such as Maale Adumim.