Israeli settlement building tenders hit record high - watchdog

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel set a 10-year record last year for the number of tenders it issued for construction in settlements on occupied land in the Palestinian territories, the anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now said on Monday. In a report published as Benjamin Netanyahu is running a close race for re-election on March 17, Peace Now blamed Israel's settlement housing plans for scuttling U.S.-brokered peace talks that collapsed in April. The report said the invitations to bid for building contracts in the settlements had tripled since 2013 on average compared to the 2009-2013 period of Netanyahu's previous administration. It said Israel issued 4,485 tenders in 2014, up from 3,710 in 2013, and 858 in 2007, and that 68 percent of construction starts were in enclaves not necessarily part of blocs that Israel has vowed to keep as part of any peace deal. The Israeli government had no immediate response to the report. When Israel last issued tenders for settlement construction, a month ago, the U.S. State Department criticised the plan as "illegitimate and counterproductive to achieving a two-state outcome". Israel, citing historical and Biblical links to the territory, has created homes for more than 500,000 Israelis on land it seized in a 1967 war, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)