UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Reuters

United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday condemned Israel’s decision to declare 4,000 dunams (988 acres) of land in Judea as state land, AFP reports.

Ban’s spokesman said that the UN chief is "alarmed" by the Israeli plans and feared they could lead to more “settlement activity”.

"The Secretary General is alarmed by yesterday's announcement by Israeli authorities to declare as so-called 'state land' nearly 1,000 acres of land in the Bethlehem area of the West Bank," the spokesman said, according to AFP.

"The seizure of such a large swath of land risks paving the way for further settlement activity, which -- as the United Nations has reiterated on many occasions -- is illegal under international law and runs totally counter to the pursuit of a two-state solution,” Ban’s spokesman said.

"The Secretary General calls on Israel to heed the calls of the international community to refrain from settlement activity and abide by its commitments under international law and the Quartet Road Map."

Sunday’s decision is one of Israel's responses to the kidnapping and murder of Israeli teens Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Frenkel, and Gilad Sha'ar. The three were kidnapped in Gush Etzion and their bodies were found several weeks later in a field near Hevron.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas issued a condemnation of Israel’s decision, which opens the possibility of further construction in the region.

Speaking Sunday evening, Abbas spokesperson Nabil Abu-Rudeineh said that the decision would “bring about a further deterioration” in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“The settlement enterprise is illegal,” he declared.

The United States followed Abbas, saying that Washington sees Israel’s announcement as “counterproductive” to peace efforts.

“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” a State Department official said.

“This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue is counterproductive to Israel's stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians,” the official added.

“We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision,” the official said.

Britain, too, condemned the move, saying it "deplores" the announcement.

"The UK deplores the Israeli government's expropriation of 988 acres of land around the settlement of Etzion," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement.

Hammond further threatened that "this is a particularly ill-judged decision that comes at a time when the priority must be to build on the ceasefire in Gaza. It will do serious damage to Israel’s standing in the international community."

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