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Israel to Widen Settlement Despite Plan (AP) By MARK LAVIE JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 07/31/03 3:53 PM) Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A9107-2003Jul31.html
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JERUSALEM - Israel said Thursday it would build new housing in a Gaza Strip settlement, angering Palestinians and raising questions about implementation of the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.
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Separate summits in Washington over the past week between President Bush and the Israeli and Palestinian premiers brought out the differences over the peace plan, and the disagreements have spawned new troubles for the blueprint.
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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said implementation of the first phase of the plan, including a "total cessation of violence," is beginning. The plan envisions a Palestinian state by 2005.
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On June 29, Palestinian groups called a limited cease-fire, greatly reducing violence, but Israel is insisting that violent militant groups be disarmed. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who met Bush on Friday, is resisting a crackdown, fearing a civil war.
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Sharon said subsequent phases of the road map cannot start until all the elements of previous stages are implemented.
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Other disagreements flared Thursday.
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Israel opened bidding for contracts to build 22 new homes in the largest Jewish settlement in Gaza, Neve Dekalim, angering Palestinians. About 2,400 Israelis live in Neve Dekalim, which anchors a group of settlements near the Gaza coast.
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Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, criticized the plans for the new homes.
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"This is a very dangerous step taken by the Israeli government," he said.
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In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the road map calls for a freeze on settlement activity.
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"A freeze is a freeze," he said, adding that the administration and Israel were discussing how to implement it.
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The Israeli Defense Ministry said the 22 units were in the settlement´s original plan, and their construction would not violate the road map because they reflect natural growth of the settlement.
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However, the peace plan states, "Israel also freezes all settlement activity, consistent with the Mitchell report" - an international study from May 2001. That report says Israel "should freeze all settlement activity, including the ´natural growth´ of existing settlements."
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Palestinians demand that all settlements in the West Bank and Gaza be removed as part of the creation of a Palestinian state. The "road map" leads through three stages to that end, but beyond the freeze and removal of unauthorized Israeli outposts, it leaves the fate of the settlements for final-status negotiations.
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Since the truce declaration, Palestinians have been demanding that Israel release thousands of prisoners. Israel is offering to free a few hundred.
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On Thursday, tempers boiled over at a prison in the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon. About 400 Palestinian inmates rioted, with five slightly injured, the prison service said. Israeli media said the prisoners were trying to prevent Israeli wardens from inspecting their cells.
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In the West Bank town of Qalqiliya, Palestinians and Israeli supporters demonstrated at the site of the security barrier Israel is building along the West Bank line. Qalqiliya is on the line and is next to a new north-south highway just inside Israel. To protect the road from snipers, Israel built a high, concrete barrier.
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Other fences cut the town off on three sides, leaving one entry-exit point to the rest of the West Bank.
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"The wall is in complete contradiction of our interests. We are living inside of a prison," Qalqiliya Mayor Marouf Zahran said. "We have no freedom of movement."
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Palestinians object to the barrier because its planned route cuts deep into the West Bank in several places and isolates many towns and villages.
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Qalqiliya was to be one of two towns Israel planned to turn over to Palestinian control soon under the terms of the road map, but disagreements emerged in talks between Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinian minister in charge of security.
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Israel proposed handing over Qalqiliya and the Jordan Valley oasis of Jericho, but the Palestinians demanded the Israeli pullout be accompanied by removal of roadblocks to allow Palestinians to move more freely around the West Bank. Israeli officials said the Palestinians also asked for control over larger towns instead of the two offered. (© 2003 The Associated Press 07/31/03)
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