Israel's settlement watchdog on Monday accused the government of quietly legalising an unauthorised settlement outpost in the Jordan Valley in a move likely to spark international criticism.
Peace Now said the defence ministry had granted tacit approval to a wildcat outpost called Givat Salit at the northern tip of the Jordan Valley.
"In the past month, the ministry of defence authorised the illegal outpost of Givat Salit despite Israel's commitments in the roadmap to evacuate it," a statement from the group said.
Under terms of the US-backed roadmap, which was launched by the Middle East Quartet of peacemaking diplomats in June 2003, Israel committed to remove all unauthorised outposts set up since March 2001.
COGAT, the defence ministry unit responsible for all civilian affairs in the West Bank, was not immediately available to confirm or deny the report.
"The government wished to avoid issuing an official decision legalising the outpost because it could have led to international criticism. The authorisation was not announced publicly, and was uncovered by Peace Now," it said.
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Israel differentiates between "legal" settlements and "illegal" outposts set up without government permission, but the international community views all settlement on occupied territory as a violation of international law.
Givat Salit was established in September 2001 and is now home to 14 families, the NGO said.
Peace Now said Givat Salit was legalised by redesignating it as a neighbourhood of the nearby Mechola settlement, despite the fact that a major inter-city highway ran between the two.
It said the ministry had used the same method in February to confer legal status on another outpost called Shvut Rachel, which was redesignated as a "neighbourhood" of the nearby settlement of Shilo.
And two months later, Israel sparked international ire by conferring legal status on another three outposts -- Bruchin, Rechelim and Sansana -- adding their number to the existing 120 official settlements dotted across the occupied West Bank which are home to more than 342,000 people.
Peace Now says there are more than 100 "illegal" outposts which were set up by various Israeli governments since the 1990s in an unofficial and illegal manner.