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WEST BANK: Israel ramps up housing construction in Ariel

August 15, 2011 |  5:48 am

Israeli officials gave the green light Monday to another large housing project on land seized during the 1967 Mideast War, clearing the way for 277 new homes in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

It marked the third announcement this month of controversial new construction projects on land that Palestinians hope to one day make part of their independent state.

Earlier this month Israeli officials approved construction of 900 homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, a Jewish development that critics say is cutting off access between Palestinian-dominated parts of East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Last week, the Interior Ministry approved 1,600 units in a Jewish housing project known as Ramat Shlomo, also in East Jerusalem.  That project, first unveiled during a visit to Israel last year by Vice President Joe Biden, drew strong criticism from the U.S.

Palestinians say the recent approvals demonstrate that Israel is not serious about reaching a peace deal that would result in a two-state solution.

Palestinians have boycotted peace talks until Israel agrees to halt all settlement construction, including in East Jerusalem. Next month they plan to seek formal statehood recognition from the U.N.

Israeli officials have refused to stop construction, rejecting criticism from the U.S., U.N. and European Union, who have called the projects counter-productive to negotiations.

Ariel, which is located deep inside the West Bank, is a particularly divisive settlement. City officials there have complained that new housing construction has been effectively frozen for several years due to the political sensitivities.

Approval of the 277 units is one of the largest expansions in a single West Bank settlement in recent years.

-- Edmund Sanders in Jerusalem

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