A quarter of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank have begun new construction despite a government order banning new housing starts, an anti-settlement group said on Monday. The Israeli defence ministry, which is responsible for the occupied Palestinian territory, has documented violations in 29 settlements, the Peace Now group said in a statement. Peace Now also recorded five additional settlements to have violated the government orders, it said.
In November, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a 10-month ban on new housing starts in settlements in a move aimed at restarting stalled peace talks with the Palestinians after months of US pressure. But the Palestinians have dismissed the lull ? which excludes public buildings, construction already under way and annexed east Jerusalem ? as falling short of their demand of a full freeze before the stalled negotiations can resume.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, are home to some 500,000 Israelis and are among the thorniest issues in the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict. * AFP