Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett approved the construction of 7,000 settlement units in the occupied West Bank.

The new units will be built in Efrat settlement in the Gush Etziion bloc in the southern West Bank, The Jerusalem Post newspaper reported.

The Israeli government has stepped up settlement building in the occupied territory in recent months, ahead of a plan to annex parts of the West Bank as of July under the US plan known as "deal of the century".

International law continues to view the entire West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as an "occupied territory" and considers all Jewish settlement construction there as illegal.

US ready to recognise Israeli sovereignty in West Bank

The United States is ready to acknowledge Israel's sovereignty in the occupied West Bank within coming weeks, US Ambassador David Friedman said on Wednesday.

In an interview with Israel Hayom newspaper on the 2nd anniversary of moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Friedman said prior steps need to be completed first before the recognition.

"Washington does not plan to impose any new conditions for the move," he said.

Freidman said the US will recognize the Israeli sovereignty after steps are taken, including the completion of mapping, halting Israeli settlements construction in Area C -- which is excluded from the annexation -- and when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agrees to negotiate with the Palestinians according to the US peace plan, a matter Netanyahu has already agreed to.

"It's not the US that is declaring sovereignty but the Israeli government. Once it does, the US is ready to recognize it," he said.

Israel is expected to carry out the annexation on July 1, as agreed between Netanyahu and head of Blue and White party Benny Gantz, both of whom currently forming a unity government.

Meanwhile, an Israeli-American commission is also working on maps of annexation which the US is due to recognize.

Most of the settlements that Israel intend to annex are located in Area C which forms around 60% of the West Bank and is under the Israeli control.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for the Palestinian Presidency, decried Friedman's remarks as false.

He said in a statement carried by the official WAFA news agency that the annexation decision was based on the "deal of the century" and American maps.

"The US and Israel have no right to take illegitimate steps that violate the law and international legitimacy," he stressed.

"All agreements and understandings with Israel and America will be null and void if Israel declares the annexation," the spokesman warned.

US President Donald Trump’s so-called "deal of the century" plan was announced Jan. 28. It refers to Jerusalem as “Israel’s undivided capital” and recognizes Israeli sovereignty over large parts of the West Bank.

The plan states the establishment of a Palestinian state in the form of an archipelago connected by bridges and tunnels.

Palestinian officials say that under the US plan, Israel will annex 30-40% of the West Bank, including all of East Jerusalem.

The plan has drawn widespread criticism from the Arab world and was rejected by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which urged "all member states not to engage with this plan or to cooperate with the US administration in implementing it in any form."

Turkey slams Israel's expansion of West Bank settlement

Turkey has strongly condemned Israel’s plans to expand illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In a statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the move was a "continuation of Israel’s policy of occupation and oppression".

It said the plan indicated Israel’s drive to continue usurping the rights of Palestinians through blatant illegal settlement activity.

Turkey’s criticism came a day after Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennet approved the construction of 7,000 illegal settlement units in Efrat, located in the southern part of the occupied West Bank.

The Foreign Ministry said Israel was eliminating any possibility of a two-state solution through the persistent expansion of its illegal settlements in Palestinian territories.

It stressed that peace and stability were needed more than ever at a time when the entire global community was battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ministry said Turkey rejects all Israeli settlement activity, which violates UN resolutions, and will always stand by its Palestinian brothers and their cause.

The Israeli government has stepped up settlement building on occupied Palestinian land in recent months, ahead of a plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank by July under the so-called “Deal of the Century” of the US.

West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is regarded as an “occupied territory” under international law, thus making all Jewish settlements there illegal.