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Israel Orders Removal of 2 Illegal Settlements - 2004-01-04

Israel has ordered the removal of two more Jewish outposts in the West Bank, in response to U.S. pressure to halt settlement activity in the territories.

Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and his defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, issued a directive that two outposts, both of them populated, be removed.

One, known as Tal Binyamin, is located near the West Bank city of Ramallah and is the site of a 15-student Jewish seminary.

The outpost was named after Binyamin and Tal Kahane, who were killed during an ambush by Palestinian gunmen as they drove through the West Bank. They were the son and daughter-in-law of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of an outlawed extremist Jewish organization.

The second outpost is Havat Maon, located near the West Bank city of Hebron. Havat Maon is currently home to seven families, and was re-established after being evacuated in 1999.

Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim conceded that settlers have returned to some of the same sites that were previously dismantled. He says such actions are illegal and that the government will not allow the settlers to remain there.

"It is right. Some that we dismantled, they rebuilt again," he said. "So, they are still on the list. We consider them as new unauthorized outposts."

Mr. Boim says that, since March 2001, 96 outposts have been set up without government approval. In recent weeks, the government has drawn up plans to remove a total of six, and warned that more will be uprooted.

The decision follows pressure from the U.S. administration, which has urged Israel to remove outposts and halt settlement activity under the international road map to peace plan.

In a separate development, Israel announced it is allowing 29,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip permits to return to work inside the Jewish state.

The Israeli army says the move is part of efforts to improve the humanitarian situation inside the territories.