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Jewish settlers in West Bank building curb protest

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Settlers protest against curb on settlement building in the West Bank

Thousands of Jewish settlers and their supporters have staged a rally in Jerusalem in protest at a curb on settlement building in the West Bank.

Demonstrators gathered outside the residence of PM Benjamin Netanyahu, days after he ordered a 10-month lull in permits for new settlement homes.

The order followed US calls for a total freeze in settlement building.

Israel said the move was aimed at helping restart peace talks, but Palestinians said it was insufficient.

Jewish settlers have been angered by the moratorium, ordered by Mr Netanyahu's right-leaning government, ordinarily supportive of settlement activity in the West Bank.

AT THE SCENE
Paul Wood
Paul Wood, BBC News, Jerusalem
In the end, the Jerusalem police said about 8,000 settlers attended this demonstration - less than the tens of thousands which their leadership had predicted - but still enough to fill the streets outside the prime minister's official residence.

There was a lot of anger here directed towards the United States - "US, take your money and leave us alone" was one of the placards I saw, because it is American pressure on Israel which has brought about these building restrictions in the occupied territories.

But the real anger was reserved for Mr Netanyahu and for the Israeli government - these people told me they had voted for the Israeli government and got a policy completely opposite to that which they had been expecting.

Nearly 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built on occupied territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Settlement building in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law - although Israel disputes this.

Protesters waved signs and banners carrying defiant slogans including "We will continue to build", and "Stop Iran's nukes, not our homes".

The demonstration passed off mainly peacefully.

A spokesman for the protesters, Bobby Brown, who is a former adviser to Mr Netanyahu, told the BBC settlers were angry at the way they were being treated.

"We believe we have a right as Jews to settle where we are. To say there's going to be a freeze based on religion - that a Muslim can build and a Jew can't - is not something we expect in this day and age."

Meanwhile, Israeli anti-settlement movement Peace Now says more homes are under construction per inhabitant in the West Bank than inside Israel despite the recent curbs.

The group said 1,167 homes were being built for every 100,000 West Bank settlers, compared to just 836 for the same number of Israeli residents.

More building

Under the new Israeli policy, permits for new homes in the West Bank will not be approved for 10 months.

But municipal buildings and about 3,000 homes already under construction will still be allowed to go ahead.

Scuffles have erupted in the past week as Israeli settlers held protests and tried to block building inspectors from entering their communities to enforce the new rules.

Settlers protest near West Bank town of Nablus

But, on the basis of the official figures, Peace Now said "the settler's claims of discrimination and attempts to 'dry out' the settlements have no basis in reality".

"Even during the freeze a larger number of housing units than the national average will be built in the occupied territories," it said.

Israeli politicians and media have been referring to the restrictions as a "freeze", although Palestinians say they are far from the total building halt, including in East Jerusalem, that they have demanded.

The BBC's Paul Wood in Jerusalem says the settlers feel betrayed by a government they thought was on their side.

Israel could just be acting tactically, trying to make the Palestinians look like the roadblock to negotiations, our correspondent says.

But even so, he adds, the Israeli government may have to choose between peace with the Palestinians or peace with the settlers.



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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Guardian.co.uk New rules on Israeli settlement produce - 13 mins ago
Inter Press Service MIDEAST: In a Muddle Over Mixed Signals - 9 hrs ago
Philadelphia Inquirer Thousands of Israelis join protest over ban on W. Bank construction - 11 hrs ago
AFP via Yahoo! Israeli settlers scuffle with govt inspectors (AFP) - 13 hrs ago
Boston Globe Settlers protest in Jerusalem against construction freeze - 14 hrs ago



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