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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 October, 2003, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Israeli house plans defy roadmap
West Bank town of Ariel
The settlements issue is key to the peace process
The Israeli government is going ahead with the construction of more than 300 new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, defying the so-called roadmap peace plan.

The housing ministry has invited bidders for 143 new apartments in the Karnei Shomron settlement in the north of the West Bank, and another 180 in Givat Zeev, north of Jerusalem.

The American-backed plan for the Middle East, known as the roadmap, requires Israel to freeze construction of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians say the scheme shows Israel wants to bury the roadmap for peace.

It is the second time this month Israel has defied the plan; having earlier unveiled plans for 600 new homes in West Bank settlements.

Key issue

Israel has also pledged to continue with its West Bank security fence despite a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the project.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the housing schemes showed that Israel's government "chooses the road of settlements instead of peace and negotiations".

"This shows that not only are they refusing to implement the roadmap but they are working to bury the roadmap completely," he told the French news agency AFP.

The Israeli human rights group Peace Now says more than 1,500 such tenders have been published this year.

The BBC's Barbara Plett, in Jerusalem, says Jewish settlements are one of the most contentious issues between Israelis and Palestinians.

They are built on land occupied by Israel that is supposed to be handed over to the Palestinians for a state, according to peace plans like the road map.

But our correspondent says Israeli officials say they do not have to meet road map obligations until the Palestinians meet theirs by cracking down on militant groups.

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