JERUSALEM -- Israel announced yesterday it would build 565 homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, violating a US-backed peace plan and angering Palestinians already seething over plans to build a security barrier deep into the West Bank.
The "road map" peace plan requires a freeze in construction in about 150 Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
But an Israeli official said Israel is not responsible for meeting its obligations until Palestinians crack down on militant groups.
"The road map is stalled as long as there is no action taken by the Palestinians to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure," said Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon.
When asked whether the US government supported that interpretation, he said, "This is our understanding, the understanding that we have had all along, and we haven't changed it."
Israel says it needs the new buildings to account for what it calls the "natural growth" of the settlements, although the vast majority of the units were planned for a single settlement that is being significantly expanded.
On Wednesday the Israeli Cabinet approved the extension of a security barrier into the West Bank near key settlements. The barrier shields Israel from suicide bombers, who have killed hundreds of Israelis over the past three years.
The United States has said the wall's route could be interpreted as an effort to preempt negotiations and unilaterally define the border of a future Palestinian state. In an effort to deflect the US criticism, Israel is for now leaving large gaps in the barrier, which will be patrolled by troops; the final route will be decided in coming months. A senior Israeli official said the sections eventually will be linked to one another and to the main barrier. That could take a bite about 20 miles deep into the West Bank, surrounding an area containing tens of thousands of Palestinians.
The Bush administration has said it might deduct some of the cost for the barrier from $9 billion in US loan guarantees to Israel, and Congress has authorized the administration to reduce the guarantees, dollar for dollar, for what Israel spends on new settlement construction.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday that the fence "presents a problem" and that "we also have concerns" about settlement construction. "We are examining the loan guarantees to determine what we should do about it," Powell said.
According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, 3,525 homes were under construction in West Bank and Gaza settlements in the first three months of this year. Since then, the government has announced plans to build 1,261 more homes, according to Peace Now, a group that monitors settlement activity, although other homes probably are being built privately.
The housing ministry said in a statement yesterday it was building the homes "according to the government's policy to promote and develop communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip according to their needs and natural growth."
Despite Israel's contention that it is only accounting for "natural growth," more than 40 percent of the 12,000 new settlers in the West Bank and Gaza last year migrated from other areas, according to the statistics bureau. In the West Bank town of Ramallah, meanwhile, a Palestinian man accused of collaborating with Israeli intelligence was killed with a gunshot to the head as he lay in a hospital bed late Wednesday, said a spokesman for the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militant group loosely affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.