JERUSALEM, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Israel announced on Sunday a land appropriation in the occupied West Bank that an anti-settlement group termed the biggest in 30 years, drawing Palestinian condemnation and a U.S. rebuke.
Some 400 hectares (988 acres) in the Etzion Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem were declared “state land, on the instructions of the political echelon” by the military-run Civil Administration.
Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teens by Hamas militants in the area in June.
"The goal of the murderers of those three youths was to sow fear among us, to disrupt our daily lives and to call into doubt our right to the land," it said. "Our response is to strengthen settlement."
The notice published on Sunday by the Israeli military gave no reason for the land appropriation decision.
Peace Now said the land seizure was the largest announced by Israel in the West Bank since the 1980s and that anyone with ownership claims had 45 days to appeal.
A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olive trees on them.
Israel has come under intense international criticism over its settlement activities, which most countries regard as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state in any future peace deal.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called on Israel to cancel the appropriation. “This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza,” Abu Rdainah said.
"By declaring another 4,000 dunams as state land, the Israeli government stabs (Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas) and the moderate Palestinian forces in the back, proving again that violence delivers Israeli concessions while non-violence results in settlement expansion," it said.
Peace Now official Hagit Ofran told AFP that the legal basis for such land confiscation goes back to an 1858 ruling by the region’s Ottoman rulers.
"We are afraid that Netanyahu will carry out a lot of expansion because of the pressure he fells from his right wing and the feeling that the (Gaza) war did not end up with many successes," he said.