Watchdog: Israel settlement building up 20 percent

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JERUSALEM (AP) -- An Israeli monitoring group says Israel stepped up settlement building in the West Bank last year -- a sticking point in the deadlock in peace talks with the Palestinians.

The dovish group Peace Now says Israel began construction of 1,850 homes in West Bank settlements in 2011, about 20 percent higher than the previous year.

The 2010 figures were depressed by a 10-month new construction freeze aimed at encouraging negotiations. Peace Now says that once the freeze expired in late 2010, Israel quickly resumed construction.

Israel's government has not yet released its 2011 numbers. Government spokesman Mark Regev says Israel is showing more "restraint" than ever before.

The Palestinians demand a halt in construction before resuming peace talks.