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Israel housing minister says settlement freeze in place

June 18, 2013 7:18 A.M. (Updated: June 20, 2013 8:48 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel on Tuesday implied that a silent freeze on new housing projects in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has been in place since the beginning of 2013.

Ariel's remarks to army radio come a day after his party leader Naftali Bennett declared that the idea of a Palestinian state had reached a "dead end" and called to "build, and build, and build" in the West Bank.

Bennett's remarks drew harsh condemnation from Palestinians and forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reiterate his support for the two-state solution.

When confronted by army radio to the fact it did not seem like the policy of this government was indeed "to build", pro-settlement Ariel acknowledged that "there's a certain difficulty here, we're acting to change it".

"In Jerusalem since the beginning of the year there have been no marketings (of new housing projects) at all, except for one (in west Jerusalem), the same to Judea and Samaria," the biblical name for the West Bank.

Pressed further by army radio whether it would be right to say he acknowledged there's a construction freeze in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Ariel replied: "Let's say that's not entirely off mark."

A freeze on settlement construction is one of the PLO's demands of Israel for a return to direct peace talks, which broke off in late September 2010.

Israel has said it is ready for an immediate resumption of talks, but insists it will only talk if there are no such pre-conditions.

Last month, Israeli media had reported that Netanyahu had ordered a freeze on tenders for new settlers homes. While Ariel had refused to comment, settlement watchdog Peace Now confirmed there had not been any tenders published since the start of the year.

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