Israeli settlement activity has nearly doubled, peace group charges

Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank has nearly doubled this year, with 2,600 housing units being built in settlements, the Peace Now group said in a report Tuesday.

Some 55 per cent of the new construction is taking place east of the security barrier Israel built on the West Bank, the report said.

Peace Now also charged that there has been a 550-per-cent increase in the number of building tenders in West Bank settlements, with 417 being issued this year compared to 65 in 2007, reported dpa.

In addition, a total of 125 new structures have been added to unauthorized settlement outposts, 30 of which are permanent structures.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Tuesday morning that the policy of the Israeli government was "not to expand settlements, not to build new settlements."

Admitting there were some "small activities," she told a joint news conference in Jerusalem with visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that "according to my knowledge settlement activity is reduced in the most dramatic way especially in the parts on the other side of the fence (barrier)."

Rice for her part said that "I think that is no secret, and I've said it to my Israeli counterparts that I don't think the settlement activity is helpful to the (peace) process."

Rice arrived in Israel Monday on another visit to gauge the progress of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

"What we need now are steps that enhance confidence between the parties and that anything that undermines confidence between the parties ought to be avoided," she told the news conference.

The international road map peace plan, which forms the underlying basis for the current Israeli-Palestinian talks, calls on Israel to halt all settlement activity and to remove all unauthorized settlement outposts erected since March 2001.

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