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Page last updated at 11:37 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 12:37 UK

Israel approves 50 settler homes

Adam
Adam, also known as Geva Binyamin, is already home to about 3,500 settlers

Israel has approved the construction of 50 new housing units in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Officials said the homes would house settlers being moved from a nearby unauthorised outpost and were only the first part of an expansion plan.

The move runs counter to a demand by Israel's major ally and backer, the US, that it stop all settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land.

It came hours before Defence Minister Ehud Barak was due to fly to the US.

Correspondents say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reluctance to comply with a freeze on building in settlements puts him on a collision course with the US.

Israel argues that settlements must be allowed "natural growth", although recent official statistics showed many new homes are purchased by newcomers from Israel or abroad.

The Palestinian Authority says settlements - which are illegal under international law - are one of the biggest barriers to peace, and has vowed to stay away from negotiations until building work is frozen.

Mr Barak will hold talks in the US with President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell. Mr Netanyahu and Mr Mitchell were due to meet in Paris last Thursday, but their talks were cancelled.

Unauthorised

Israel intends to remove about 200 people from the Migron outpost - deemed illegal by Israel as it is built on private Palestinian land - and re-house them in Adam settlement, north of Jerusalem.

Migron outpost
Demolition work has failed to uproot settlers from the place they call Migron

The disclosure comes in an affidavit from the Defence Ministry to the Israeli Supreme Court in response to a court case brought by the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now.

The document speaks of a master plan to build 1,450 more residential units at Adam, but only 50 of these have been given the go-ahead.

Any additional units would require separate approval from the Defence Ministry, the document said.

A Peace Now spokesman said moving settlers from the small unauthorised camp on a hilltop to a 3,500-strong settlement established by the government sent the wrong message.

"(Settlers) who set up illegal outposts and threatened to use violence if evicted have benefited because the outcome will be that their original settlement will have grown 30-fold," said Yariv Oppenheimer.

Lawyer Michael Sfard, who acts for the Palestinian landowners, told the BBC: "It is outrageous that this is how the government deals with outposts: providing outlaws with a new house."

He also described the government's announcement as an "act of panic", before the final hearing on the fate of Migron is due to be held next Monday.

The Israeli authorities have repeatedly removed structures from the Migron site, but settlers have always returned to rebuild them.

Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.



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