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Israeli Report says Government Violated Settlement Laws

The Israeli government has accepted a report on Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank that points to violations of an internationally-backed peace plan. Israel is promising to make amends and dismantle about one quarter of them.

Israel's Cabinet adopted an official report which found widespread government complicity in the establishment of more than 100 illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank. The report said government aid to the outposts, included providing money, land, water, and electricity.

In effect, the report says successive governments broke the law to advance the cause of West Bank settlements. As a first step, the government decided to dismantle 24 outposts.

Mr. Sharon told the Cabinet that he is committed to dismantling the outposts in compliance with the internationally-backed "road map" peace plan. But Israel has made that promise before, and nothing has been done.

Cabinet Minister Ephraim Sneh of the dovish Labor Party says the sooner the outposts are removed, the better.

"They are like cancer in the body of our land because they are [an] obstacle to peace; there will no peace as long as they exist," he said.

The settlers admit they had plenty of help from the government, including none other than Mr. Sharon.

"It is obvious the one who sent us is the prime minister, so he should look in the mirror," said settlement leader Shaul Goldstein, who spoke on Israel Television.

The report does not recommend legal action against Mr. Sharon or other officials, but it does demand drastic measures to stop government assistance to the outposts.

One of the most vocal critics of the outposts is U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who describes them as a flagrant violation of the "road map." Mr. Annan will meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and the West Bank this week, to try to get the "road map" back on track.