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Israel to Build New Housing in West Bank


The Israeli Defense Ministry confirmed Tuesday that the construction of 117 new apartments has been approved by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. A statement said the prime minister and the defense minister have ordered that construction move ahead.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office confirmed the construction plans.

Deputy defense minister, Zeev Boim, said during a tour of Ariel on Monday that some 3,000 homes are to be built in Ariel.

Mr. Sharon has vowed that settlement growth will continue in the West Bank - although Israel is required to freeze all settlement activity under terms of the internationally backed "road map" peace plan.

Israeli Education Minister Limor Livnat told Israel Radio Tuesday that settlement construction in the West Bank should continue.

Palestinians angrily denounced the plans for new construction. Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat said it was creating 3,000 new obstacles to peace.

Ariel is one of the largest Jewish settlements in the West Bank, with some 17,500 residents. Mr. Sharon has vowed those large enclaves would remain in Israeli hands even in a future peace deal.

Late last week Israel froze plans to build some three thousand five hundred apartments in Maaleh Adumim, its largest settlement in the West Bank. Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, however, that at some point in the future Israel will continued expanding the settlement until it connects with Jerusalem.

The announcement of new construction plans for Ariel comes only weeks after Israel evacuated all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four small ones in the West Bank.

In other news, at least four people were killed and as many as 30 were injured in an explosion in a Gaza City home late Monday where known members of the Islamic militant group Hamas lived.

Hamas blamed Israel but the Israeli military said it had nothing to do with the blast.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the incident regrettable and said there would be an investigation into the cause of the blast.

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