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Ha'aretz: "Construction continuing in West Bank settlements despite PM's pledge"

According to Hagit Ofran, who heads the monitoring of settlement activity for Peace Now, the trailers were set up on privately owned Palestinian land.


By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

A new neighborhood comprising 27 trailers is currently under construction at the settlement of Eli, north of Ramallah, even though Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed publicly after the Annapolis conference that any such building would cease.

Even though some of the trailers are being set up on land privately owned by Palestinians, the authorities are taking no action.

Similar unauthorized construction has taken place in the settlement of Maskiot in the northern Jordan Valley.

Last December, after the Annapolis conference, Olmert promised to freeze construction in the settlements. But developments in a number of settlements suggest that the settlers are trying to initiate a new wave of construction.

The most notable case is Eli, where work is underway to link the 27 trailers to infrastructure. The construction, which began about a month ago, is expected to be completed in the coming days.

The trailers were put up on site because the Civil Administration imposes severe restrictions on moving complete trailers in the West Bank.

The trailers were placed on land near the Palestinian village of Luban al-Sharqiyah, on the other side of Route 60, connecting Jerusalem and Nablus. They are near the Kinor neighborhood at the Eli settlement.

According to Hagit Ofran, who heads the monitoring of settlement activity for Peace Now, the trailers were set up on privately owned Palestinian land. Ofran bases her claims on comparisons between the trailers' location and data the Civil Administration gave to Peace Now on land ownership in the West Bank.

Security sources also confirmed to Haaretz that at least some of the trailers were placed on privately owned land. For its part, the Yesha Council, which represents settlers in the territories, maintains that the construction has been undertaken on state-controlled land.

Regardless of who owns the land, it is certain that the construction at Eli is being done without authorization. The settlement lacks an approved blueprint for construction and expansion, and if the land is indeed private Palestinian property, there is no way to issue authorization for building.

There is also no evidence that the construction has been carried out with any authorization from the political leadership.

The Civil Administration has not taken any practical steps to prevent the new construction. The defense establishment is investigating the building at Eli and the nearby outposts, because it seems that large portions of the settlement were put up illegally.

Last week, Channel 1 reported that 10 settler families moved in at Maskiot in the Jordan Valley. Maskiot began as a base for Nahal, a military unit, and several years ago included a pre-conscription military academy for national-religious youth.

In December 2006, then-defense minister Amir Peretz approved the decision to build 30 new homes there, where the evacuees from the settlement of Shirat Hayam in Gush Katif could be housed. Peretz revoked his decision after he came under criticism.

Construction was renewed in Maskiot recently, without government approval, and earlier this month the families were brought in to live in the new houses. The Civil Administration issued orders for razing seven homes that were built illegally.

According to Captain Tzidki Maman, spokesman for the Civil Administration, "the illegal construction at Eli is known and is being examined. Another part of the construction is being considered by the High Court of Justice."

He says that the Maskiot construction "is under constant monitoring and orders to raze the illegal construction have been issued. The implementation of the orders will be carried out on the basis of broader policy and considerations."