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Ban lifted on Israelis' return to evacuated West Bank settlements

Israel's parliament has voted to allow Israeli citizens back into the sites of four settlements in the occupied West Bank which were evacuated at the time of the disengagement from Gaza in 2005.

There has been international criticism of the bill, as the settlements were built on what the High Court of Justice ruled was private Palestinian land.

It still has to be signed by an Israeli military commander to be enforced.

But it risks further inflaming tensions with Palestinians ahead of Ramadan.

Some 600,000 Jews live in 140 settlements built since Israel's occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.

Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Almost 18 years ago, Israel's parliament passed a law mandating the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as well as the evacuation of four isolated settlements in the northern West Bank - Sa-Nur, Ganim, Kadim and Homesh.

Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government said the latter move would help "provide Palestinian territorial contiguity" in the West Bank and make it easier for Palestinians to live a normal life.

Israelis were banned from entering the evacuated area without the permission from the Israeli military.

However, a group of settlers were able to establish a Jewish religious school and an unauthorised outpost at Homesh which the new coalition government - the most right-wing and nationalist in Israel's history - has been pushing to legalise.


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