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Israel Enlarges Settlements, to Delay Gaza Pullout
by Islam Online (reposted)
Tuesday Apr 19th, 2005 7:00 AM
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, April18 , 2005 ( & News Agencies) – Israel issued on Monday, April18 , a tender inviting bids for the construction of 50 new housing units inside a settlement in the occupied northern West Bank, as Premier Ariel Sharon gave a strong indication of delaying the planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
Yaakov Harel, a spokesman for the Israel Lands Authority, said the tender had been issued for the settlement of Elkana, which is currently home to more than3 , 250Jewish settlers, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The houses “will be built by private entrepreneurs on state land,” he told AFP.

Elkana is some six kilometers (four miles) on the Palestinian side of the internationally-recognized border between Israel and the West Bank known as the Green Line, according to AFP.

Harel further added that the infrastructure work (for the new houses) has been completed, and construction of the homes could begin in two or three months, reported Israel’s daily Ha’aretz.

The tender comes less than a week after US President George W. Bush told Sharon to abide by the internationally-drafted roadmap peace plan which expressly forbids any expansion of Jewish settlements.

It also came only four days after the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution condemning Israel’s settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories, pressing for an immediate freeze.

The Israeli move is sure to draw fiery reactions from the Palestinians, but there was no immediate reaction to Monday’s announcement.


The move was immediately denounced by the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now as a clear violation of the government's commitments under a peace plan known as the roadmap.

“This construction is clearly part of Sharon's plan to reinforce control of the settlement blocs in the West Bank despite of the commitments made by Israel,” Peace Now spokesman Dror Etkes told AFP.

“This kind of expansion bolsters extremists on both sides,” he added.

A spokesman at the US embassy in Tel Aviv reiterated Monday that Israel was obliged to freeze all settlement activity under the roadmap.

“What the president said last week remains our policy. Under the roadmap, settlement activity must cease,” Paul Patin told AFP.

A Western diplomatic source said the plan to expand Elkana was “clearly inconsistent” with the spirit of the roadmap and invited cynicism about the Israeli government's intentions.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz recently approved plans to build3 ,500 new homes at the settlement of Maaleh Adumim on the outskirts of Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem).

Gaza Pullout Delay

The declaration of enlarging settlements was not the only defiant move by Israel Monday, as it coincided with another step that was bound to put heavy challenges on the current shaky ceasefire.

Sharon gave a strong indication that he will delay the evacuation of settlers from the Gaza Strip to avoid clashing with a Jewish mourning period, according to AFP.

Asked about reports that he would put back by three weeks the withdrawal, originally due to start on July20 , Sharon said: “We must do everything we can to facilitate the evacuation”.

The head of the disengagement office, Jonathan Bassi, suggested at a cabinet meeting on Sunday, April17 , that the month-long operation be postponed to allow observant Jews to mourn the destruction of the so-called second Jewish Temple.

The week-long commemoration culminates this year on August14 , when many Jews will observe a24 -hour fast.

Vice Premier Shimon Peres, on a visit to Paris, also confirmed that a delay was on the cards.

“I think that, for religious reasons, we can delay (the withdrawal) by two or three weeks,” Peres told French television station LCI.

A source close to Sharon had said the premier was studying the proposal but was wary of agreeing to a delay which could lead to disruption for pupils at the start of the new school year.

“We have already thought about this but there is a problem over the start of the school year which begins on September1 ,” the source told AFP.

“Serious Mistake”

But Israeli Interior Minister Ofer Pines, a member of the center-left Labour party, warned against any postponement.

“Such a decision would be a serious mistake which would make the pullout much more difficult,” he told the Israeli public radio.

One of the leaders of the settler movement, Pinhas Wallerstein, said he was amazed that Sharon had set a start date for the operation without looking at the Jewish calendar.

“The actual date matters very little. The important thing is to prevent this evacuation,” Wallerstein, a senior member of the Yesha settlers council, told the Israeli army radio.

All 8 , 000Gaza settlers and several hundred living in four small Jewish enclaves in the northern West Bank are to be evacuated under Sharon’s so-called disengagement plan.
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