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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 March, 2005, 10:45 GMT
Israeli settler protest condemned
Israeli police break up settler protest
Protesters blocked one of Israel's busiest roads in rush-hour
Senior Jewish settler leaders have condemned Monday's protest by settlers against the Gaza disengagement plan.

Dozens of Jewish settlers and their supporters blocked a main highway at the entrance to Tel Aviv at nightfall Monday, causing a huge traffic jam.

Anti-disengagement protesters appear to have adopted the tactic of blocking major roads in recent weeks.

They oppose the plan of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for settlers and troops to leave Gaza and some of the West Bank.

The settler Yesha Council's Hisdai Eliezer condemned the protest on one of Israel's busiest roads at rush-hour.

"I am not happy with this action. It contributes nothing to the struggle," he told Israeli Army radio.

Anti-disengagement protesters set tyres on fire on the road at about 1900 local time. They blocked both directions of the road.

"It certainly did not create any empathy," for the settlers and their campaign, Mr Eliezer said.

"It will most certainly not persuade those people standing in the traffic jam and having trouble getting home at the end of a day of work."

Israel is expected to withdraw settlers and the soldiers that protect them from the Gaza Strip in July this year. Israel, which has occupied the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, will retain control of Gaza's external borders, coastline and airspace.

US pulls out

The US has halted work with Israel on mapping Jewish settlements in the West Bank, an Israeli newspaper said on Tuesday.

Haaretz said an aide to Mr Sharon had promised President George W Bush's administration in April 2004 that Israel would demarcate the settlements in line with a US-backed Middle East peace plan requiring a freeze on settlement expansion.

But Israel had since supplied no up-to-date aerial photographs of the West Bank to help a joint Israeli-US task force check the settlements' status, prompting Washington to call off the project, the newspaper reports.

In the assurance given to the US administration in a letter, Israel said it was committed to participate in a joint team to demarcate settlement boundaries in the West Bank.

Demarcation of the boundaries, which is crucial for setting limits to the settlements' growth, was to be carried out based on updated aerial photographs.

This report comes a week after an official investigation found that Israeli officials and ministries have been secretly diverting millions of dollars to build unauthorised Jewish outposts in the West Bank.

Former state prosecutor Talia Sasson recommended criminal investigations against those alleged to be involved.

Israel is meant to remove unauthorised outposts on Palestinian land under the US-backed roadmap peace plan.

The international community considers all settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

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