Israel Planning 73,300 Illegal Housing Units On The West Bank

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Peace Now an Israeli left-wing Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) reported on Monday that the Israeli government is planning to build more than 73,300 new housing units in the West Bank.

Peace Now estimates that if all of the units are built, it would mean a 100 per cent increase in the total number of Israeli settlers. The report says that some settlements, including the two largest Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim, would double in size.

According to the report, approval has already been granted for the construction of 15,000 housing units, and is pending for a further 58,000 units.

The report states that 5,722 of the planned housing units are in East occupied Jerusalem, and some 9,000 units in total have already been built.

Peace Now says that a new right-wing government presents the danger of ‘expanding settlement growth at a rapid pace… with the clear intention of destroying the possibility of a two-state solution.’

Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu of the rightist Likud party, tipped to form the new government after the February 10 elections, has expressed his opposition to a two-state solution.

He also said that while a Likud government would not build new settlements, it would allow natural growth in existing ones.

But the Peace Now report says 17,000 units are planned for Gush Etzion, near Bethlehem, to be built outside existing settlements.

The report also states some 19,000 of the planned homes would be built beyond the route of the West Bank separation fence, including in Kiryat Arba in occupied Al-Khalil and Ariel.

In total, the report says, the planned West Bank homes account for 22 per cent of housing units currently planned by the Housing Ministry.

Responding to the report, the Housing Ministry said Peace Now was making ‘a big deal out of nothing.’

It said the plans gave only a general picture of the potential for settlement building and actual projects and construction were conditional on policies set by the ministers of housing and defence.

MK Yaakov Katz of the right wing National Union on Monday welcomed the news that Israel is pushing ahead with construction in the occupied West Bank.

‘We will make every effort to realise the plans outlined by [Peace Now official Yariv] Oppenheimer,’ Katz told Army Radio on Monday.

‘I expect that, with God’s help, this will all happen in the next few years, and there will be one state here.’

National Union is pushing for increased settlement construction as part of a coalition deal with Netanyahu, and Katz is among those jostling for the post of Housing Minister.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces stormed the house of Mahmoud Al-Abbasi in the Ein Al-Loza area of the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan on Monday morning.

Al-Abbasi told Ma’an that a large Israeli police force surrounded the area where the house is located and stormed inside, forcing the family to leave and throwing furniture out.

But no clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police were immediately reported.

Al-Abbasi added that bulldozers demolished his house, in which 11 people lived, including nine children, and claiming that he had received no prior notice of the demolition beforehand.

The house was located in a neighbourhood 500 metres from the Al-Bustan neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, where Israeli officials say 88 homes of 1,500 Palestinians are slated for demolition.

l Israeli defence officials slammed Egypt on Sunday for allowing Hamas No. 2 Moussa Abu Marzouk to enter the Gaza Strip last week following reconciliation talks the resistance group held with Fatah in Cairo.

One official told The Jerusalem Post that Abu Marzouk, 58, spent nearly 24 hours in Gaza after entering from Sinai on Thursday night, visiting family and his parent’s graves.

It was his first visit to the Strip in 30 years. He was born in the Rafah refugee camp.

The Israeli officials said that while Egypt denied allowing Abu Marzouk into Gaza, he was in fact allowed to cross into Gaza above ground and not via a tunnel like some Hamas men have done in the past.

‘This is a slap in the face,’ a defence official said.

‘Abu Marzouk is a senior terrorist and Egypt is helping Hamas by allowing him into Gaza.’

The decision to allow Abu Marzouk into Gaza was made without telling Israel and was understood in the Israeli Defence Ministry as Egypt’s way of expressing its anger with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s rejection last month of Cairo’s proposal for a cease-fire with Hamas as well as for using other channels to negotiate a deal with Hamas for the release of captured Israeli occupation soldier Gilad Shalit.

‘Egypt is upset at Israel for rejecting the proposal and for using others as mediators,’ the official said.

Meanwhile , sources in the Israeli army Southern Command said the continued Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza undermined the success of ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in January.

The sources called on the government to increase the army’s freedom of operation and to allow it to initiate operations inside the Gaza Strip.

‘Lack of response plays into Hamas’s hands,’ one officer said.

‘Hamas continues to fire to show that it is alive even though it suffered a heavy blow during the operation. It is trying to show that nothing has changed.’