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Sunday, November 7, 1999 Published at 10:45 GMT

World: Middle East

Illegal settlements get breathing space

The last remaining caravans are supposed to be removed from Nev Erez

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, has extended a deadline for the eviction of Jewish settlers from a number of outposts in the West Bank and allowed the enlargement of one settlement to ten times its original size.

Middle East
The news of the enlargement provoked angry reactions, with an aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat saying it "harms the peace process".

Speaking on Israeli radio, Mr Barak said the settlers at illegal settlements had a maximum of three days, before troops would be sent to evict them.

Under an agreement reached last month between the Israeli Government and the Settlers Council, the outposts were to be vacated by Sunday, but some of the settlers refused to leave.

The four outposts involved are among 12 enclaves that settlers promised to give up in exchange for 30 more that will be allowed to remain. Eight outposts have been dismantled so far.

The Palestinians, who claim all of the West Bank, regard all settlements as illegal and have criticised Mr Barak's deal with the settlers as a tacit approval of land grabbing.

Enlargement plan

The enlargement of the Itamar enclave, near the autonomous Palestinian town of Nablus, "is an old scheme which is being integrated into a development plan for settlements," Mr Barak said.

According to the radio, the prime minister's decision would allow Itamar, which is currently home to 70 Jewish families, to grow from 70 to 700 hectares (173 to 1,730 acres).

Nabil Abu Rudeina, an aide to Yasser Arafat, was quoted by AFP news agency as saying: "It does not help to create a climate of confidence between the two sides - particularly as it comes on the eve of the start of final status talks."

A new round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, including the next Israeli handover of land in the West Bank, is due to start on Monday.

Controversial issues

The talks in Ramallah will focus on some of the biggest problems that need to be solved before Israel and the Palestinians can sign a final peace settlement.

The negotiation teams will focus on five issues:

  • future status of Jerusalem
  • future of the Jewish settlements
  • Palestinian refugees
  • water rights
  • Israel's final borders

Both sides want Jerusalem as their capital. On the question of borders, Mr Arafat wants 90% of occupied land back, whereas Israel has offered only a fraction of that.

The issues seem virtually intractable, our correspondent says. A deal that is acceptable to the Palestinians might not appeal to the Israeli public. Finding a middle ground will require not only goodwill but also time.

Both sides have set themselves a tight timetable with a commitment to signing a final peace treaty by September 2000.

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