Just days after a long-term ceasefire was agreed upon by Israel and Hamas after 50 days of fighting that claimed more than 2,000 lives, the former once again incited tensions by announcing the appropriation of almost 1,000 acres of occupied West bank that houses 2.4 million Palestinians.
Around 400 hectares (988 acres) in the Etzion Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem were declared "state land, on the instructions of the political echelon" by the military-run Civil Administration on Sunday, Reuters reported.
This is said to be the largest land grab in more than three decades in West Bank, a region that Hamas is fighting for statehood.
The civil administration announced on Israel Radio that this step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teens by Hamas militants in the area in June.
The Jewish settlements in occupied areas of West bank are considered illegal under international law, but Israel disputes this as more than 5 lakh Jews now live in the region. Israel had mooted a major Jewish settlement in the area 2000.
Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, claimed that the appropriation is part of Israel's plan to convert a site where '10 families now live' adjacent to a Jewish seminary into a permanent settlement.
Israel's move drew sharp criticism from the United States, which called the land seizure in the contested region as "counter-productive".
"We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision," a US State Department official said in Washington. Officials had earlier cited settlement construction as one of the main reasons for the breakdown between the two sides.
Palestinians have called for diplomatic action against Israel. "This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza," Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, was quoted saying by The Guardian.
A long-term ceasfire was put in place just last week after nearly two months of fighting between the militant outfit Hamas and Israeli forces. 2,143 Palestinians including children were killed, more than 11,000 were wounded and one lakh were left homeless. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and six civilians were killed.
This new development by Israel could further aggravate tensions that are yet to recede after the disastrous fighting that proved costly in an unprecedented way for both Israel and Palestine.