World Bulletin/News Desk
Israel has carried out a new land grab in the occupied West Bank, the Haaretz daily said on Sunday, in a move that could complicate efforts to extend troubled peace talks with the Palestinians.
Haaretz said the Defence Ministry declared nearly 250 acres (100 hectares) of territory in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc just south of Jerusalem "state land". Asked by Reuters about the report, the ministry declined immediate comment.
The land appropriation, the left-leaning newspaper said, was the largest in years and could eventually lead to the expansion of several settlements and authorisation of a settler outpost built without Israeli government permission in 2001.
Haaretz said the heads of nearby Palestinian villages that claimed the land as theirs were informed of the move last week and have 45 days to appeal.
It was not immediately clear whether the reported appropriation was part of sanctions that Israel has begun to impose in response to the April 1 signing by Palestinians of 15 international conventions and agreements during the current crisis in U.S.-brokered peace negotiations.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, accused Israel of trying to destroy chances for peace through a "frantic escalation" of settlement activity.
"This is the real face of the Israeli government," she told Reuters. "This is a government hostile to peace moves and it's taking steps which have a longer-term strategy."
Israel has gone ahead and destroyed several EU-funded humanitarian projects in a settlement zone in the West Bank earlier, despite diplomatic threats and repeated calls to desist.
The E1 corridor, as it’s called, contains an area known as Ras-a-Baba (or Jabal-al-Baba), overlooking Jerusalem. It has been a target of the Netanyahu government ever since 2012. The three projects destroyed will be joining whole scores of other EU-funded structures that Israel has destroyed, without regard for international law, as Europe believes, calling the area “a red line”, a report by EurActiv, an EU policy news and discussion portal, has revealed.
Speaking before the Haaretz report appeared, Israel's chief peace negotiator, Tzipi Livni said on the YNet news site that she is optimistic the statehood negotiations will be extended beyond the original April 29 deadline for a deal.
Livni has been meeting her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat in an intensive push over the past few days to try to salvage the talks.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Israel's publication on April 1 of a tender for 708 homes for settlers in East Jerusalem was the proximate cause for the near collapse of the talks, which began in July.
Israel's anti-settlement Peace Now movement said on its website that at least 90 of the 120 Jewish settlements built in the occupied West Bank since its capture in a 1967 war are on "state land".
Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and fear settlements will deny them a viable country. Israel cites historical and Biblical links to the West Bank and Jerusalem and says Gush Etzion is one of the enclaves it intends to keep in any future peace deal.
Citing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's signing of U.N. human rights conventions, Israel said on Wednesday it was limiting its contacts with Palestinian officials, although Livni could continue to meet negotiators.
Announcing another sanction a day later, an Israeli official said Israel would deduct debt payments from tax transfers which the Palestinian Authority routinely receives, and limit the self-rule government's deposits in Israeli banks.
For his part, Abbas has accused Israel of violating a commitment to release two dozen prisoners at the end of March, including Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis, when the negotiations resumed. This is the last group of 104 prisoners Israel pledged to free as a confidence-building measure.Last Mod: 18 Nisan 2014, 00:25