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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 March 2006, 10:15 GMT
Israel 'to keep major settlement'
Ariel settlement in the West Bank
The Ariel settlement is one Israel intends to keep after any peace deal
Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed that Israel will never give up the major Jewish settlement of Ariel in the West Bank.

Mr Olmert said the settlement, north of Jerusalem, would be "an integral part of Israel, whatever happens".

Last week, Mr Olmert said he would unilaterally set permanent borders for Israel within four years if his Kadima party won the election in two weeks.

Palestinians claim the West Bank for a future state and want settlers removed.

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

Israeli politicians are campaigning ahead of elections on 28 March.

'Ariel is Israel'

Speaking to Ariel residents, Mr Olmert said their settlement would be an integral part of Israel.

17,000 residents
Established in 1978
In 1998 the Israeli government granted official city status to Ariel
Linked to Tel Aviv by four-lane motorway

"Ladies and gentlemen, I want to be clear on this, the Ariel bloc will be an inseparable part of Israel under any situation," he said. "Ariel is Israel."

The Israeli government granted official city status to Ariel in 1998 and it is now the second largest settlement in the West Bank with 17,000 residents.

Mr Olmert also said the Israeli authorities would finish the controversial West Bank barrier by the end of the year.

Israel says the barrier is needed to stop suicide bombers, but Palestinians say it is being used to expropriate West Bank land.

The International Court of Justice issued an advisory ruling in 2004 that the barrier breached international law where it is built on occupied territory and should be dismantled.

Correspondents say Mr Olmert's comments appear to be aimed at placating Jewish settlers ahead of the general election on 28 March.

Many settlers have been angered by the government's plan to withdraw from smaller settlements in the West Bank.

Mr Olmert's Kadima party, which he has led since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke in January, is ahead in the polls and is set to become the largest party in the next parliament.

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