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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 17:43 GMT
Israeli settlement building grows
By James Reynolds
BBC correspondent in Jerusalem

Jewish settlements in the West Bank
The roadmap sought to freeze construction
New building in Jewish settlements on occupied land grew substantially in 2003.

Figures released by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics show that new building in Jewish settlements increased last year by 35%.

Human rights organisations say that there are around 400,000 settlers in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza living in more than 120 settlements.

Under international law, the settlements are considered illegal.

At the same time, building work inside Israel itself has fallen to its lowest level for more than a decade.

Roadmap 'ignored'

The increase, in what is known here as 'settlement activity', confirms what everyone here already knows: that in this particular area, Israel has ignored its obligations as set out in the international peace plan, the roadmap.

The plan called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity.

But for many months now, no-one has paid much attention to the demands of the roadmap.

Even in the optimistic early days of the peace plan last June, the Israeli government never formally agreed to a settlement freeze.

Instead, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised not to build new housing beyond the existing built-up areas of settlements.

That means that building work inside settlement boundaries may continue.

In larger settlements, particularly around Jerusalem, construction work is a routine sight.

The news that settlement housing has increased would seem to be odds with the fact that Mr Sharon has recently pledged to evacuate settlers from the Gaza Strip as part of his own so-called disengagement plan.

Certainly, many Palestinians are sceptical that a full withdrawal from Gaza will ever take place.

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