Israel Housing Ministry
'Funding Illegal Settlements'

By Donald Macintyre
The Independent - UK

JERUSALEM -- Israel has used almost £3.6m to finance illegal settlement construction in the West Bank over the past three years, more than half of it for outposts which the government is formally pledged to remove.
The cash for illegal settlement expansion channelled through the Housing and Construction Ministry was highlighted yesterday in a damning annual report from the State Comptroller, Eliezer Goldberg.
Mr Goldberg said in his report that the that the ministry had spent money on expansion projects which had not been approved by either the Cabinet or the Defence Ministry - and including construction projects where land ownership was still being disputed. His report added that the money had been allocated even as a branch of the Israeli military was investing other funds "to track down and demolish illegal construction" in settlements and outposts.
The disclosures come at a sensitive time because the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, reaffirmed his pledge to destroy illegal settlement outposts in the talks with President George Bush in which he secured significant concessions in return for pushing through his plan to withdraw some 8,000 settlers from Gaza and four small settlements in the West Bank.
Mr Sharon is trying to secure support for a revised version of the plan after it was rejected in a vote by the Likud Party membership last Sunday.
The report says that from January 2000 to June 2003, the Housing Ministry approved 77 contracts for construction projects in 33 West Bank areas, 18 of them unauthorised outposts. More than half of the funding for illegal West Bank construction went to the outposts. While all settlements on the Palestinian side of the 1949-1967 border are contended by Israel's critics to be illegal under international law, the projects identified by the Comptroller are illegal under Israeli law.
The report found that in two cases, the ministry funded roads and buildings in areas where there were specific demolition orders by the civil administration. The projects that were not outposts - beyond settlement borders - were unlicensed building within settlement borders.
Peace Now, the Israeli organisation which has long campaigned against settlement construction, said 102 unauthorised settlement outposts had been built and 21 have been removed. Others were removed but rebuilt. Yariv Oppenheimer, a spokesman for Peace Now, declared yesterday that the report "confirms everything we've been saying for eight years". He added that Peace Now was filing an immediate police complaint against the the Housing Minister, Effi Eitam.
Menachem Mazuz, the Attorney General, ordered a freeze on government funding for settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza last month after reviewing Mr Goldberg's initial findings. Mr Mazuz lifted the freeze earlier this week after approving a monitoring system to prevent funding of illegal projects.
* Israeli Air Force jets attacked two Hizbollah outposts in southern Lebanon yesterday after military sources said the guerrilla organisation had fired anti-aircraft shells that hit Kibbutz Achziv in northern Israel and a beach in the region. No casualties were reported following either attack.
Hizbollah declined to say if it had fired anti-aircraft rounds at Israel, but the Lebanese army said it fired anti-aircraft rounds earlier at Israeli military aircraft flying over the country.
© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd



This Site Served by TheHostPros