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Israel will not revive settlements evacuated in 2005: PM

Israeli soldiers guard the road leading to the Homesh Yeshiva (religious school), at the former settlement of Homesh, December 30, 2021
— Jerusalem (AFP)

Israel has "no intention" of reviving West Bank settlements evacuated nearly two decades ago, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday, after a parliamentary vote sparked US ire.

Lawmakers voted Tuesday to annul part of a law banning Israelis from living in areas of the occupied West Bank the government evacuated in 2005.

That year Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip and removed Jewish settlers from the coastal territory, as well as from four settlements in the northern West Bank.

Netanyahu's office said the parliamentary vote scraps "a discriminatory and humiliating law, that prohibited Jews from living in areas in northern Samaria, which is part of our historic homeland," using the biblical name for the northern West Bank.

"Having said that, the government has no intention of establishing new communities in these areas," the statement added.

Netanyahu returned to power in December and vowed to expand settlements across the West Bank, which are deemed illegal under international law.

His assertion that the government will not formally allow settlers to return to the four sites evacuated in 2005 comes after Washington said it was "extremely troubled" by the parliamentary vote.

"The legislative changes announced today are particularly provocative," State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters Tuesday.

Patel said the move was in "clear contradiction" of promises made by prime minister Ariel Sharon to US president George W. Bush, as well as assurances given just two days ago by the Netanyahu administration.

The decision by lawmakers was heralded by Israel's settler movement which has made one of the sites -- Homesh -- a symbol of their cause.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, himself a far-right settler, tweeted that it marked a step towards regularising the Israeli presence at Homesh.

A small group of activists returned to the site in 2009 and set up a Jewish seminary, which was cleared repeatedly by Israeli troops before the military eventually allowed them to stay.