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Peter Hirschberg, Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz
"Palestinians view the settlements as the major threat to any type of future Palestinian state"
 real 28k

Baruch Bina, Israeli government spokesman
"The connection between the settlements and the violence is rather artificial"
 real 28k

Thursday, 10 May, 2001, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
Israel slashes settlement funding
Mitzpe Danny, a new Jewish settlement near the West Bank town of Ramallah
Peace activists say settlers are grabbing land to sabotage peace
By Frank Gardner in Jerusalem

The Israeli Government has slashed its funding plan for Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories by more than half.

A senior adviser in the Israeli prime minister's office told the BBC that the cuts were part of an overall budget reduction. Another Israeli official denied they had been made in response to pressure from Washington.

A funeral for one of the two Jewish youths bludgeoned to death in the West Bank
Feelings are running high in settlements following the most recent deaths
The move has added fuel to the growing debate over Jewish settlements built on Arab land.

Israeli radio reported the sum in question as being drastically reduced from the equivalent of nearly $400m to $150m.

The Israeli prime minister's adviser, Raanan Gissin, stressed that the money was intended for boosting security in the settlements, which have been coming under increasing international scrutiny.

Earlier this week the US State Department called the proposed funding for settlements "provocative".

A Palestinian girl injured after Israeli soldiers opened fire on a crowd gathered for a burial
Palestinian children are also among the victims
But now that the sum has been more than halved, Mr Gissin says that wording has been dropped by Washington.

For the Palestinians the figures in question are irrelevant - it does not alter the fact that close to 200,000 Jewish settlers are living in protected enclaves all over the land that Palestinians are hoping to declare as their own state.

Increasingly, the armed clashes between Israelis and Palestinians are taking place in and around Jewish settlements.

The two Israeli teenagers found murdered on Wednesday came from one of them.

Illegal building

The mortar bombs fired almost daily by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are all aimed at Jewish settlements, which are illegal under international law.

The latest ceasefire plan now under discussion calls for a freeze in settlement building but the Israeli Government has ruled that out, saying that would be seen as a reward for Palestinian violence.

Defying international opinion, the government is insisting on its right to expand existing settlements to take into account natural population growth.

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See also:

09 May 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Words stoke Mid-East fires
08 May 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Arms haul sparks new fears
05 May 01 | Middle East
Report criticises Israeli settlements
07 May 01 | Middle East
Israeli attack kills baby girl
08 May 01 | Middle East
Israel sounds the alarm
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