- 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
- 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