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Peace Now: Settlement building doubles since freeze

Sept. 7, 2011 2:02 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 9, 2011 9:44 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Reuters) -- According to Peace Now's latest report released Wednesday, construction in West Bank settlements has doubled since the end of a building freeze which ended US brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians last year.

Peace Now's Settlement Watch Director of Projects Hagit Ofran told Reuters that the settlement construction rate over the past year has allowed settlers to bridge the gap created during a 10-month moratorium that ended last year.

"Our report shows that there were almost 2,600 units started in settlements after the settlement freeze which means that all of the freeze [achievements] was already erased," Ofran told Reuters in her Jerusalem office.

"The number of construction in Israel is half the number of construction in settlements and we believe that the government of Israel is working against the Israeli interest which is not to build in settlements and to make peace with the Palestinians," she added.

According to the report, based on the analysis of aerial photos of West Bank settlements and field visits in the ten months since the end of the building freeze, 2,598 new housing units were being built and the construction of 2,149 new housing units were completed.

The report showed that at least 3,700 units were under construction during the period of the last 10 months.

US brokered peace talks have been frozen since the Palestinians walked out in September last year over Israeli settlement building.

Ghassan Khatib, Head of Palestinian Governmental Press Office told Reuters that the report only reaffirms Palestinian claims.

"[The Peace Now report] reaffirms the danger of the situation in the occupied Palestinian areas.

"It also assures the credibility of the Palestinian Authority, which was always calling for international efforts to force Israel to respect the Palestinian international legitimacy and rights by halting the expansion of settlements, which are internationally illegal and are blocking any real peace process," Khatib said from the West Bank city of Ramallah.

In the absence of negotiations, Palestinians plan to apply in two weeks for full membership of the United Nations, as part of a campaign to win international endorsement of sovereignty within the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Israel and the United States oppose the unilateral move, calling on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to talks.

Israel disputes Palestinian claims to all of the West Bank, saying a return to pre-1967 war borders would jeopardize Israeli security and citing historical links to an area the government calls by its biblical name, Judea and Samaria.

Some 500,000 Jews live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, also captured in the 1967 conflict. There are about 2.5 million Palestinians in the same territory.
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