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Israel Gives Nod to New West Bank Settlement
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Israel has approved the building of a new settlement in the northern West Bank to house the former Gaza settlers, officials said Tuesday, breaking a promise to the US to halt settlement construction.

Construction of Maskiot began months ago. But the project only received final approval from the Defence Ministry last week, said Dubi Tal, head of the Jordan Valley regional council.

The new settlement will house 23 families evacuated from the Gaza Strip last year and will eventually house 100 families, Tal said.

"I estimate that within two or three weeks the foundations for temporary housing will begin," he said.

Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the construction and urged the government to revoke its authorization, saying it violated the new spirit of co-operation inaugurated by a meeting on Saturday between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"What message are they trying to send?" Erekat said.

Olmert has signalled in recent weeks that he is ready to make broad territorial concessions to the Palestinians under a final peace settlement. But he has also said he wants Israel to retain large settlement blocs. The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War, as part of a future independent state.

Under the phased, US-backed "roadmap" peace plan, Israel committed to freeze all settlement expansion, while Palestinians pledged to crack down on militants. Neither side has followed through.

"The US view on settlements remains unchanged," said Geoff Anisman, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. "The US continues to urge both sides to meet their roadmap obligations and to avoid taking steps that could be viewed as predetermining the outcome of final status negotiations."

Last weekend's Olmert-Abbas summit sought to build on momentum from an Israeli cease-fire with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which took effect last month.

Despite the truce, Gaza militants launched six homemade rockets into Israel Tuesday, causing no damage or injuries, the army said. The militants have launched about 60 rockets since the truce was declared.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops shot and seriously injured a Palestinian man near the fence separating Israel and Gaza.

(China Daily December 27, 2006)


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