JERUSALEM, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) -- Ministers of the Israeli cabinet on Tuesday rejected calls by Western powers to halt settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, vowing to build thousands of new housing units and legalizing unauthorized outposts.
Foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States said in a joint statement on Tuesday they were "deeply troubled" by the Israeli government's decision to promote settlement construction and legalize nine wildcat outposts.
"We strongly oppose these unilateral actions which will only serve to exacerbate tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and undermine efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution," said the statement.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a hardline settler who is also in charge of settlement construction, later responded in a statement that he and his allies in the coalition government remain "committed to removing completely the restrictions on construction" in the West Bank.
Smotrich added that 9,409 new housing units are expected to be built soon.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, another hardline settler in the ultra-nationalist government, said in a video statement that "(legalizing) nine outposts is nice but it's not enough. We want much more."
On Sunday, following a string of Palestinian attacks, Netanyahu's cabinet decided to legalize nine outposts that were built without Israeli permits and to approve soon about 10,000 new housing units in existing settlements.
Outposts are settlements built without official permits and are deemed illegal under Israeli law.
There are dozens of unauthorized outposts and some 140 Israeli-authorized settlements scattered around the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and where the Palestinians wish to establish their future state.
Most of the international community regards all Israeli settlements as illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace. ■