Mohammed Mar’i
Arab News
February 21, 2008 - 7:25pm§ion=0&article=107024&d=21&m=2&y=2008

The Israeli anti-settlement watchdog, Peace Now, yesterday said that 27 new mobile homes are currently under construction at the settlement of Eli, north of West Bank city of Ramallah, even though Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed publicly after the Annapolis peace conference that any such building would cease.

The group said that the Israeli authorities are taking no action to stop the construction even though some of the homes are being set up on land privately owned by Palestinians. Peace Now remarks came a day after Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in Jerusalem to push the stalling peace process.

The homes 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 mobile homes were brought to Eli in pieces and assembled there to evade military restrictions on moving completed homes to settlements.

Ofran added that work is under way to link the mobile homes to utilities, even though there is no official approved blueprint for expanding Eli. The group said that there is also no evidence that the construction has been carried out with any authorization from the political leadership.

Haaretz said yesterday that similar unauthorized construction has taken place in the settlement of Maskiot in the northern 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 Gaza Strip could be housed. Peretz revoked his decision after he came under criticism.

Earlier this month, the families were brought in to live in the new houses. The Civil Administration, a military department responsible for the coordination of civil affairs in the West Bank, issued orders for razing seven homes that were built illegally.

Haaretz quoted Capt. Tzidki Maman, spokesman for the Civil Administration, as saying that “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 added 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.”

Israel and the Palestinian Authority launched peace talks last December following a US-host Annapolis peace conference. At the conference, both the Palestinian and Israeli sides had vowed to implement the US-brokered roadmap plan.

The first phase of the road map plan calls on the Palestinians to crack down on militants, while demanding that Israel halt settlement activity, including the natural growth, and to dismantle illegal settlement outposts.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops arrested 12 Palestinians during an invasion into the West Bank town of Tulkarm yesterday, Palestinian security sources said. Islamic Jihad fighter Omar Al-Badawi and 11 others were seized in a cafe by troops who had arrived in around 20 jeeps.

In other developments, the United States is floating an idea to temporarily deploy NATO troops in the West Bank after Israeli troops eventually withdraw, a newspaper said yesterday, quoting Israeli defense officials.

Gen. James Jones, the US special Middle East envoy, is spearheading the idea, the Jerusalem Post reported.

It said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had been briefed but had not finalized his position. Israel has traditionally been hostile to any suggestions of using foreign troops to help achieve peace in the region. Under such a deal, third-party troops would be stationed in the West Bank to secure the area between the time of an Israeli withdrawal and when the Palestinian Authority is able to take over full security control.

“The deployment of such a force has come up in talks, and Jones is known to be working on it,” a senior defense official was quoted as saying. “At the moment, it’s just an idea and yet to be accepted or adopted by Israel.”

Asked about the report, US Embassy spokesman Stewart Tuttle said only that “Gen. Jones hasn’t said anything in public about any discussions he may be having in private, and it is very early in the process.”


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