Israeli PM Sharon to enlarge Jewish settlements

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he intends to enlarge Jewish settlements in the West Bank in defiance of demands from the international community.

"There will be building in the settlement blocs," Sharon said in a report Monday by The Jerusalem Post. "Each government since 1967 - right, left and national unity - has seen strategic importance in specific areas. I will build."

However, the so-called road-map peace plan - drawn up by the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia - calls for a halt to all settlement activity.

Sharon's comments came as Israeli soldiers and police cleared 20 of the 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip more than a year after Sharon proposed the unilateral withdrawal, Independent Online informs.

As reported earlier, the final settlement, isolated Netzarim in the central Gaza Strip, is to be cleared Monday, a week after the forced removals began. Then Israeli troops and police will begin to evacuate four northern West Bank settlements also slated to be emptied under the withdrawal plan.

But Sharon said he expected the Ma'ale Adumin settlement to "continue to grow and be connected to Jerusalem". Palestinians argued that such a melding of the two cities would cut the West Bank in two, but Sharon said, "Solutions can be found."

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