JERUSALEM - Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak approved the construction of buildings in the West Bank to serve as an educational facility for special-needs youth, his office said on Friday.

The site, named Gevaot and located in the Gush Etzion bloc, “is not a settlement nor is it new in the Gush Etzion regional council, and is part of Alon Shvut,” a nearby settlement, the statement from Barak’s office said.

“This is an educational institution for a special-needs populace, on state-owned land, enabling to substitute temporary structures with permanent ones at the end of the process,” it added.

Acting chairman of the Gush Etzion regional council Yair Wolf told AFP the site, which currently contains approximately 60 caravans, will turn into a village for children with Down’s syndrome.

Wolf said the minister’s decision would allow the currently run-down site to be transformed “into a high-level institution providing employment to Down syndrome youth.”

There is no territorial continuity between Alon Shvut and Gevaot. Jewish settlements are deeply contentious, with Israeli-Palestinian peace talks grinding to a halt over the issue in late September 2010, just weeks after they were restarted.

The Middle East Quartet - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - urged both parties on October 26 to come forward with comprehensive proposals on borders and security within three months.

Palestinian officials repeatedly warned they would not continue talks after January 26 unless Israel froze settlement construction and agreed to base any future talks on the lines which existed before the 1967 Six-Day War.

The two sides began exploratory talks last month under the auspices of Jordan to see if they can resume negotiations.

Amman hosted talks on four separate occasions in January, the first since September 2010, but they failed to yield any tangible results.

The international community considers all Jewish settlements built in the West Bank - including east Jerusalem - to be illegal.