Israel has given the go - ahead to build nearly 300 homes in the settlement of Beit El near Ramallah, a spokesman said.

" The Civil Administration has given the green light for 296 housing units at Beit El, but this is only the first stage of a process before actual construction can begin, " he said, speaking on behalf of a unit within the defense ministry which administers the West Bank, AFP reported.

He explained that the construction plans were part of a compensatory measure for settlers who were evicted last year from Ulpana, an unauthorized outpost on the outskirts of Beit El which was evacuated following a High Court ruling. The announcement came just two days after a report said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had quietly ordered a freeze on tenders for new settler homes in a bid to give a chance to US - led efforts to revive moribund peace talks with the Palestinians. Hagit Ofran of Israel ' s Peace Now settlement watchdog denounced the move. " This initiative proves Netanyahu is deceiving the world, " she said. " On the one hand, he lets us believe that he is putting the brakes on settlement and on the other, he gives the go - ahead for an enormous building project ". Direct peace talks broke down shortly after they were launched in September 2010 because of an intractable dispute over Israel ' s settlement building, which is widely accepted as a violation of international law. The Palestinians say they will not return to negotiations unless Israel freezes construction on land they want for a future state.