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Peace Now: 13,000 settlement units pending

Sept. 13, 2010 10:33 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 14, 2010 1:37 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- At least 13,000 housing units in illegal West Bank settlements are set for construction once Israel's building moratorium ends on 30 September, a report issued by an Israeli rights group read Monday.

According to Peace Now, at least 2,066 housing units are ready for construction, having received building permits, while a further 11,000 are in the works that do not require further government approval.

"There are apparently hundreds more housing units ready for construction as soon as the freeze ends but the ground works have not yet begun and there is not available information about them," the report read.

Peace Now said building permit records made available to them but warned that "hundreds more building permits were approved recently by local authorities that do not publish their building permits.

"In several cases the information was published in notices of the intention to build new projects issued to contractors or other professionals in the construction industry."

Additionally, the rights group said there are approximately 37,684 housing units in plans that were approved in the past but were never built. "Most of those units require further approval of the government for the allocation and marketing of the lands."

Netanyahu to offer 'settlement freeze' similar to Olmert

The report was issued a day before Palestinian and Israeli leaders are set to begin the second round of direct negotiations in the resort town of Sharm Ash-Sheikh in Egypt. The PLO and Palestinian Authority have maintained that they would walk out of talks if Israel refused to extend its 10-month moratorium on West Bank construction, and expand its mandate to East Jerusalem.

However, residents of the illegal West Bank settlements have vowed to continue building at an unprecedented pace following the freeze's expiration, as well as in retaliation for the killing of four settlers in a shooting attack last week.

Meanwhile, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to adopt a policy identical to that of his predecessor for construction in West Bank settlements - a partial freeze - as the September 30 end of the moratorium approaches.

But under Olmert, currently embroiled in a bribery scandal over the construction of several apartment complexes in West Jerusalem, more than 90 of construction was carried out in the major settlement blocs including East Jerusalem's Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel.

Despite pressure from ministers within his coalition government, Netanyahu has yet to officially declare the Israel government's next move following the end of the moratorium.

Earlier this year, indirect talks mediated by the US were broken off on the eve of the PLO's endorsement, after Israel announced further settlement expansion to an Israeli-only settlement in East Jerusalem during US Vice President Joe Biden's visit to the region to restart peace talks.
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