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Rightists march at Maale Adumim in favor of new settlements

Feb. 14, 2014 10:02 A.M. (Updated: Feb. 15, 2014 1:59 P.M.)
MAALE ADUMIM (AFP) -- Thousands of young Israeli hardliners marched on Thursday to demand the government build new settler homes in E1, a highly sensitive strip of West Bank land near Jerusalem.

Police said more than 6,000 people, including major Israeli political figures but composed mostly of teenagers, joined the march which began in Maale Adumim settlement in the occupied West Bank and ended at E1 -- an undeveloped stretch of land just to the west, which borders annexed East Jerusalem.

"Kerry = persona non grata," read one of the signs, referring to US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is currently trying to coax Israel and the Palestinians towards a peace agreement.

Israel has been planning construction in E1 since the early 1990s but nothing has ever been built there due to heavy international pressure. Plans for building 1,200 units unveiled in December 2012 were quickly put on the back burner after the announcement triggered a major diplomatic backlash.

The Palestinians say construction in E1 would effectively cut the West Bank in two and prevent the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state.

"We will keep (the) promise to build in E1," Housing Minister Uri Ariel told a crowd composed almost entirely of high-schoolers.

Last April, Ariel, who belongs to the far-right national religious Jewish Home party, pledged to build new apartments in E1 within 18 months.

The demonstration came hours after a Palestinian protest on the site in opposition to Israeli settlement construction in E1. That protest was held in anticipation of the Israeli right wing protest, and Israeli forces detained one activist during the demonstration.

In January 2013, a group of more than 200 Palestinian activists had set up a protest encampment called Bab al-Shams in E1 as a way of drawing attention to Israel's plans to settle there.

Israel and Palestinians began a nine-month track of direct peace talks at Kerry's urging in July 2013, but there has been little visible sign of progress.

Kerry, who has repeatedly come under fire from Israeli hardliners in recent weeks, is currently focusing his efforts on hammering out a framework agreement which would allow for the talks to be extended, likely until the end of the year.

In late 2012, the Israeli government announced plans to build hundreds of settler homes in the E1 corridor after Palestine was granted non-member observer state status at the United Nations. Those plans were later frozen, but never completely shelved.

Israeli settlement construction in E1 would divide the West Bank in two and make the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state -- as envisaged by the internationally backed two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict -- virtually impossible.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report
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