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Old 23-07-2009, 09:24 AM   #24
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Israel to demolish 23 illegal settlements in one day, Tuesday 21 July 2009 19.01 BST


Israel is planning to remove 23 "illegal outposts" from the West Bank in the course of a single day in response to mounting US demands that it halt all settlement activity, it was reported today.

These outposts are defined as illegal by the Israeli government because they have not received planning permission. But under international law all settlements built on occupied territory are illegal. According to the Ha'aretz newspaper the outposts, housing 1,200 people, will all be evacuated and dismantled simultaneously following a decision by the Likud prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli army denied receiving any orders for a "lightning evacuation". Settler spokesmen warned of a furious response if any such move took place.

Israel has only twice evacuated Jewish settlements since the 1967 war: in 1981 when the Sinai desert was returned to Egypt, and in 2005, when Israel unilaterally withdrew troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip. Removing settlers from the West Bank will be far more controversial.

Israel has told the US it would remove "illegal" outposts built after March 2001. The current activity is in response to unprecedented pressure from Washington, where President Barack Obama has departed sharply from the informal acquiescence of the Bush administration.

Dan Meridor, a deputy prime minister with a reputation for moderation, insisted that tacit "understandings" with Bush still bound the Obama administration.

Netanyahu has insisted that construction must be permitted in existing settlements to accommodate what he calls "natural growth" in their populations. In all, nearly 500,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, both claimed by the Palestinians as part of their future independent state.

Tensions have flared in recent days since Netanyahu said the US had no right to demand that Israel halt plans to develop 20 apartments in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. On Monday, campaigners protesting at the planned eviction of Palestinian families to make way for it appealed to Obama to stop the settlement.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said today: "What is required from Israel is to freeze all settlement activity. When Israel meets these demands, we will be ready to go to the final negotiations."

France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, meanwhile summoned the Israeli ambassador to Paris to complain about Jewish settlements. "These activities must be stopped," warned Kouchner, "otherwise there will be no chance to found an independent Palestinian state that administers itself and also guarantees Israel's security."

Britain's foreign office minister, Ivan Lewis, told MPs: "Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including the natural growth of existing settlements, and dismantle all outposts erected since March 2001."

Sweden, current president of the EU, also urged Israel "to refrain from provocative actions in East Jerusalem, including home demolitions and evictions." It added: "Such actions are illegal under international law."
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