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Israeli rights groups ask court to block law legalising settlements

Two Israeli rights groups have asked the country's Supreme Court to overturn a new law legalising West Bank settlements.

Adalah and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre have appealed to the high court, asking it to block implementation of the bill passed in parliament this week that sets out to legalise dozens of settler outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land.

The measure sparked heavy criticism both in Israel and abroad, with critics saying it amounts to legalised land theft.

They also said it is legally problematic as it seeks to impose Israeli law on occupied land that is not sovereign Israeli territory.

Proponents claim the communities, some decades old and home to thousands of people, were built in "good faith" and quietly backed by several Israeli governments.

"This sweeping and dangerous law permits the expropriation of vast tracts of private Palestinian land, giving absolute preference to the political interests of Israel," said Suhad Bishara, a lawyer for Adalah.

The Palestinians seek the West Bank and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, as parts of a future independent state.

Most of the international community considers Israeli settlements illegal and counterproductive to peace.

Some 600,000 Israelis now live in the two areas.

The law, which was adopted by the Knesset on Monday, is the latest in a series of pro-settler steps taken by Israel's hard-line government since the election of Donald Trump as US president.

In all, the law would legalise some 3,900 homes built on private Palestinian land - about 800 in unauthorised outposts and the remainder in recognised settlements.

The original landowners would be eligible for financial compensation of 125% of the land's value, as determined by Israel, or a comparable piece of alternative property.

Amid much international criticism, the Trump administration was conspicuously quiet about the law ahead of a trip to the White House by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week.

Israel's attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, has said he will not defend it in court.

Mr Netanyahu has also expressed misgivings about the bill, reportedly saying it could drag Israel into international legal prosecution, though in the end he agreed to support it.

In December, the UN Security Council passed a resolution declaring settlements illegal.

AP

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