Israel approves construction of hundreds of new homes in West Bank settlements

Israel has approved the construction of hundreds of new homes in West Bank settlements, a Defense Ministry official said Wednesday, violating its obligations under the U.S.-backed road map peace plan. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz approved the plans in the past week, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. He made the decision shortly before leaving the hard-line Likud Party for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new centrist party.

Israel is obligated under the road map to freeze construction in all Jewish settlements, including the largest ones that it says it wants to hold onto under a future peace deal. However, it has not fulfilled its commitment, and construction has continued unabated since the road map was approved in June 2003. The Palestinians also have failed to meet their obligations to dismantle armed militant groups.

Mofaz's decision is sure to infuriate the Palestinians, who demand that all settlements be removed from the West Bank. The Palestinians want to establish an independent state in all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with east Jerusalem as its capital. Israel evacuated all its Gaza settlements in August.

Mofaz's recent plans are for 200 housing units in Maaleh Adumim, Israel's largest settlement, dozens of houses in the smaller communities of Bracha and Nokdim, and 40 trailer homes in Ariel, another large settlement with nearly 20,000 residents, the ministry official said. In addition, Mofaz agreed to advance construction plans in Givat Zeev and Beitar Illit, two large settlements near Jerusalem, the official said, reports the AP. I.L.

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