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Peace Now: Settlers to build 800 new homes in Ariel

Nov. 9, 2010 3:56 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 10, 2010 4:01 P.M.)
JERUSALEM, (AFP) -- Jewish settlers are poised to begin work on a new settlement outcropping comprising 800 new homes in the sprawling West Bank settlement of Ariel, Israel's settlement watchdog said on Tuesday.

According to Peace Now spokeswoman Hagit Ofran, the new outpost will encircle the Palestinian town of Salfit, which lies just to the south of Ariel in the northern West Bank.

"A private developer recently obtained the renewal of a permit to prepare for the construction of 800 homes," Ofran told AFP.

Ofran said that the initial permit had expired and that "in order to carry out the project and begin construction the developer needed the permit's renewal."

She described the move as "grave provocation."

"There is no demand for housing now in Ariel," which is home to 18,000 settlers, she added.

The Israeli interior ministry and officials at the Ariel municipality declined any comment.

But a military spokesman rejected the Peace Now charges, saying the project did not currently have approval.

"There is a project for 650 homes which, in order to be built, need the prior authorization of the defense ministry," said the spokesman.

Israel's defense minister must sign off on all building projects in the West Bank.

The latest report comes a day after Israel announced it would go ahead with the construction of 1,300 new housing units in mostly-Arab east Jerusalem.

That decision sparked a furious reaction from the Palestinians, who accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of sabotaging peace talks.

It also drew condemnation from the United States and the European Union.

"This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations," US President Barack Obama told reporters on Tuesday during a trip to Indonesia.

"I'm concerned that we're not seeing each side make the extra effort to get a breakthrough that could finally create a framework for a secure Israel living side-by-side in peace with a sovereign Palestine," he said.

EU chief diplomat Catherine Ashton urged Israel to drop its plans, saying it clashed with efforts to revive peace talks with the Palestinians, according to her office.
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