Fri, Aug 06, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Israel expands W. Bank housing

POPULATION POLITICS Thousands of new settlers near Jerusalem are critical for Israel to counter high Arab population growth as Jews leave the holy city


Palestinian youths carry a dying 17-year-old shot by Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip's Beit Lahia on Wednesday. Medical sources said Wael Abul Jedyan died of a bullet in the heart en route to a hospital, one of three Palestinians killed in the area that day.


Israel is planning to build thou-sands of housing units in the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim in an attempt to connect the community to Jerusalem, Israeli officials said yesterday.

It appears the plan is meant to ensure a large Jewish majority in Jerusalem to counter a high Arab population growth rate. Maaleh Adumim is 6km east of Jerusalem.

The US publicly condemned a smaller plan to expand Maaleh Adumim earlier this week, but Israeli officials said they will seek US approval for this and similar expansion projects.

US officials said the US opposes all settlement construction. Another US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said US Mideast envoy Elliot Abrams was to discuss the Maaleh Adumim plans during a meeting in Jerusalem later yesterday with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia discussed the Maaleh Adumim scheme at a meeting yesterday with Abrams. The construction plan amounts to a "land grab" meant to deny the Palestinians a state, Erekat said.

Israeli officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they believe the expansion plan fits President George W. Bush's acknowledgment that large settlement blocs will remain in Israeli control under a final peace deal.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops left the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun, where they have been "conducting an operation" for six weeks, allegedly to clear areas used as launching pads for rocket attacks against Israeli towns and settlements. One military official said, however, that the troops will redeploy around the town.

Israel raided Beit Hanoun last month after rockets killed two people in the Israeli town of Sderot.

Though hundreds of acres of Palestinian land were cleared of crops and orchards and several houses demolished, the army operation in Beit Hanoun failed to stop the rocket barrage on Sderot. Several Palestinians were killed by the Israelis during the six weeks of military occupation.

Sharon says he is determined to stamp out the rocket fire, which could torpedo his plan to evacuate the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements by late 2005.sraeli towns within rocket range.

As part of the withdrawal plan, Sharon sought and received US backing for Israel's plan to hold onto large West Bank settlement blocs such as Maaleh Adumim, home to 31,000 Israelis, under a final peace deal.

However, the US has repeatedly called on Israel to abide by a settlement freeze outlined in the ``road map'' peace plan.

``This will kill the road map and this will kill any attempts to have final status negotiations one day,'' Erekat said.

This week, the State Department denounced a report that Israel planned to build 600 housing units in Maaleh Adumim, calling it a violation of the road map.

Israel said the plan was old, predating the road map, and that many of the housing units already have been built.

Yet three months ago, Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz declared 3,750 acres of land between Maaleh Adumim and Jeru-salem to be state land, the first step toward using the land for housing construction, said one government official on condition of anonymity.

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