JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel expropriated a large stretch of land in the West Bank as Vice President Joe Biden was ending a visit to Israel last week, according to a copy of the land declaration obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The land seizure, reported earlier by Israeli media, has already drawn a sharp rebuke from the United States.
COGAT, the Israeli military body that oversees Palestinian civilian affairs, confirmed Wednesday that about 580 acres (235 hectares) near the West Bank city of Jericho were declared government land.
Officials said the decision was enacted Sunday. However, the declaration was signed last Thursday, the same day Biden left the region, according to the land document provided by anti-settlement group Peace Now.
Responding to Israeli media reports about the move, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that it was "the latest step in what appears to be an ongoing process of land expropriations, settlement expansions and legalizations of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We strongly oppose any steps that accelerate settlement expansion, which raise serious questions about Israel's long-term intentions," Kirby said.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in those territories.
A visit by Biden in 2010 was marked by a diplomatic spat with Washington after Israel announced settlement construction plans during his visit.
In January, Israeli officials announced that Israel had approved the expropriation of 370 acres (150 hectares) of West Bank land near Jericho. Peace Now said the latest expropriation appeared to implement the January decision, but with a larger tract of land seized than initially publicized.
COGAT gave no reason for the latest land expropriation. Peace Now said such land tends to be used for Jewish settlement purposes. In the past, Israel has declared West Bank lands as government property when the lands are not farmed and not found to be registered under anyone's name.