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Israel offers housing plots in west bank settlement { December 5 2003 }

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Israel offers housing plots in West Bank settlement
December 5, 2003

Israel invited public bids today for 98-year leases of 13 plots of land designated for private home construction in a major Jewish settlement in the West Bank, an offer that ran against a US-backed peace plan.

Washington has recently stepped up criticism of Israel's right-wing government for expansion of settlements built on occupied land Palestinians want for a future state.

Israel's Peace Now group, which wants settlements scrapped, said the number of plots on offer in Ariel was small but indicative of government policy to press ahead with construction in settlements.

"[Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon ignores Israel's commitment to the 'road map' on a daily basis," said Peace Now spokesman Yariv Oppenheimer, referring to the stalled peace plan's call for a freeze of settlement expansion.

Israel says it must continue to build in settlements to accommodate the "natural growth" of their populations.

Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat, commenting on the Ariel land offer, said settlement expansion harmed efforts to revive peacemaking.

"We urge the Israeli government at the time we are about to engage in a serious dialogue in Cairo and are preparing for a meeting between the two prime ministers to stop unilateral acts of settlement expansion," he said.

Palestinian factions, including two Islamic militant groups that have carried out suicide attacks in Israel, were due to start talks on a ceasefire in the Egyptian capital today.

The invitation for bids in Ariel was published in the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth daily by the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), a government agency responsible for managing land deemed by Israel to be state property.

It offered 98-year leases, with an option to renew for another 98 years, on 13 plots of land where private homes would be built within three years. The minimum bidding price was set at 5,000 shekels ($A1,497).

Under the Geneva Accord, a symbolic peace plan that Israeli left-wing opposition figures and Palestinian politicians launched this week, Ariel, home to 17,000 Jews, would be one of the settlements evacuated in a land swap with a Palestinian state.

Some 200,000 Israelis live in 145 settlements built on land Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war. The international community regards the settlements as illegal. Israel disputes this.


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