October 29, 2010

Israel expands settlement in Occupied Territories


Ma’an - NABLUS – Israel is expanding a settlement in the northern West Bank district of Nablus, Ma'an has learned.

Shvut Rachel Alt. 804, part of the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, was built on Palestinian land in the Jalud village.

The village's total area is some 16,000 dunums. Settlers have confiscated about 80 percent of the land to expand six settlements, residents say.

About 65 dunums of the land is planted with olives, but farmers have been prevented from accessing it since the second intifada, says Abdullah Hajj Muhammad, the village mayor. He told Ma'an that bulldozers recently cleared an area in the village's Al-Khafafesh area.

Ghassan Doughlas, a Palestinian Authority settlement affairs officer who monitors the northern West Bank, said three Israeli bulldozers were seen operating Tuesday near the settlement.

A representative of the settlement denied any major expansion was in order.

"The earth works observed are the slight enlarging of the width of the road that comes off Highway 60 to Shiloh and on the Shvut Rachel and a bit further," said Yisrael Medad, in an email.

The construction is on either side of the road for safety concerns, Medad said. It aims to "prevent accidents as the road is too narrow for two buses at the same time on the curves."

Settlers consider Shvut Rachel a neighborhood of Shilo, another settlement, but the government of Israel has never recognized it as such, according to Peace Now, an Israeli group which opposes settlements.

"Officially there is no Shvut Rachel," Hagit Ofran of Peace Now told Ma'an. Ofran, who heads the group's settlement watch initiative, said the community is like an outpost but was never declared as such.

The UN lists the area as an outpost in its maps of the West Bank.

Robert Serry, the UN peace envoy, said he was alarmed that work had started on hundreds of new homes for settlers since the end of Israel's settlement freeze last month, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Settlers have begun building more than 600 homes and dug foundations for 300 units in dozens settlements since the partial moratorium expired in September, Peace Now says.


George Hale contributed to this report.

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