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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 21:25 GMT 22:25 UK
Rights group criticises settlements
Jewish settlement in the West Bank
Settlements control "nearly half of the West Bank"
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By Michael Voss
BBC correspondent in Jerusalem

One of the most divisive issues for any future peace negotiations is the presence of Jewish settlements in former Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank.

The built-up areas of Jewish settlements account for less than 2% of the land occupied by Israel in 1967 after the Six Day War.

Palestinian labourer, working in Jewish West Bank settlement
Israel is accused of applying different laws to Palestinians
But according to a report published by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, Jewish settlements control just under 42% of the region.

This figure includes the municipal boundaries of the settlements and the land administered by Jewish regional councils based there.

The report puts the total number of settlers, including those living in and around Arab East Jerusalem, at about 380,000 people.

The human rights group accuses Israel of applying two separate systems of law in the West Bank, which it compares to the former apartheid regime in South Africa.

Settlers' groups claim they have a birthright to territory they see as part of the biblical land of Israel.

The fate of the settlements has long been one of the major stumbling blocks in almost all previous peace talks.

And, so far, there has been no official government response to the report that calls for the settlements to be dismantled, along with financial compensation for residents.

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