Israel exploring construction of thousands of new homes in settlements

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Israel's Housing Ministry says it is exploring the potential construction of thousands of new homes in West Bank settlements in coming years.

The announcement threatened to deal a new blow to U.S.-brokered Mideast peace efforts, which have run into trouble over Israeli settlement construction on occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians.

The ministry confirmed Tuesday it is recruiting architectural firms to conduct feasibility studies for long-term construction of some 600,000 new homes nationwide to ease a housing crunch.

The ministry refused to say how many homes were considered for the West Bank, but the Israeli Haaretz daily put the number at 20,000. The ministry said any construction would be years away.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Israeli settlement construction raises doubts about its commitment to peace.