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Israel approves 2,500 new housing units

Prime Minister Netanyahu says Israel will "continue to build"

Jerusalem CNN  — 

Just days after US President Donald Trump was sworn into office, Israel approved the construction of approximately 2,500 new housing units in West Bank settlements Tuesday, according to a statement from Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We are building - and we will continue to build,” said Netanyahu in a tweet.

The planned new homes mark one of the largest settlement expansions since 2013, according to the settlement watchdog Peace Now. It comes just days after Trump’s inauguration and two days after he spoke with Netanyahu, a conversation which Trump described as “warm” and during which he invited Netanyahu to the White House early next month.

Trump press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the new housing units Tuesday at the White House press briefing.

“Israel continues to be a huge ally of the United States,” Spicer said. “(Trump) wants to grow closer with Israel to make sure that it gets the full respect that it deserves in the Middle East.”

Most of the housing units are in the main settlement blocs, Liberman said, but approximately 100 units are in Beit El, a settlement outside of Ramallah, which received a $10,000 donation in 2003 from the Trump Foundation – Trump’s charitable organization – according to the foundation’s publicly available tax return.

Trump made the donation in honor of David Friedman, his bankruptcy attorney and pick for US Ambassador to Israel. Friedman had served as President of the American Friends of Bet El Institutions, a group that raises funds for settlement activities. Friedman, an Orthodox Jew, has been an outspoken and active supporter of the settlement movement.