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Israel approves construction of 25 factories in West Bank


Jerusalem : Israel has approved the construction of 25 factories in a Jewish settlement in the heart of the occupied West Bank, a spokesman for the settlement said yesterday. “We have received authorization from the ministry of defense to pursue construction on the site of our industrial area,” Ariel settlement spokesman Reuven Shapira told AFP. “Around 10 factories exist and the project is to reach 35 factories in this area,” he said, adding that work resumed on Monday. Shapira said the defense ministry had frozen the Ariel project around a year ago to check its feasibility. The settlement lies south of the Palestinian city of Nablus and is one of the biggest in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians have repeatedly said the expansion of settlements in the West Bank is the main obstacle to the success of peace talks with Israel formally relaunched at a US conference in November.

The internationally-drafted 2003 peace roadmap, which serves as the basis for the talks, calls on Israel to halt all settlement activities and for the Palestinians to cease all armed attacks. But since the peace talks were revived, Israel has announced several settlement expansions, mainly in east Jerusalem, which it occupied and annexed in the 1967 war. Israel considers all of Jerusalem its “eternal, undivided” capital and has said all settlement expansions are taking place in areas it expects to keep in any future peace agreement. The European Union, meanwhile, said Israeli plans to build nearly 900 homes in disputed east Jerusalem undermines the credibility of peace talks with the Palestinians. The 27-nation bloc said the decision last month to build new homes was illegal under international law. “This decision serves to undermine the credibility of the ongoing diplomatic process,” the EU said in a statement. “Settlement activities prejudge the outcome of final-status negotiations and compromise the viability of a concerted two-state solution,” it added.

The EU has long been against Israeli moves to build new settlements in areas European nations consider occupied Palestinian territories, ones the international community has not recognized as being part of Israel. They include east Jerusalem, which Israel captured and annexed after the 1967 Mideast war. The fate of Jerusalem lies at the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians hope to make east Jerusalem the capital of their future state, and they say continued Israeli construction threatens that goal and makes it difficult to win public support for peace talks. Some 180,000 Jews lives in east Jerusalem and 270,000 live in the West Bank, most in three major settlement blocs. Israel insists it is building only in places it intends to keep under a peace accord. Although Israel committed under the 2003 “road map” peace plan to freeze all settlement activity, Israel considers east Jerusalem to be exempt from that obligation because of the annexation, which has not been recognized internationally.