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Palestinian Wants Building Stopped

September 28, 1999

JERUSALEM (AP) _ A Palestinian leader demanded today that Israel cancel plans to build 2,600 more homes in Jewish settlements, and peace activists said the new Israeli government is building in the West Bank at a faster pace than its pro-settlement predecessor.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian peace negotiator, wrote in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s chief policy adviser that the new construction could ``destroy the whole peace process.″

Copies of Erekat’s letter to the adviser, Danny Yatom, were sent to the U.S. State Department and other world bodies, with a request to take action to reverse the Israeli decision.

Barak’s office would not comment today.

Under Barak’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, about 3,000 settlement housing units were built annually, said Hagit Yaari of Peace Now. The Israeli group opposes settlement expansion in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, areas sought by the Palestinians for a future state.

Yaari said that since the Barak government took office, settlement housing was going at an even faster pace.

``You can’t say in one breath that you’re working for peace, including removal of settlements, and at the same time build like crazy,′ she told The Associated Press.

She said Housing Minister Yitzhak Levy, a pro-settlement holdover from Netanyahu’s government, was largely responsible for the construction.

However, she noted that Barak has the authority to stop the projects. Barak’s ministerial committee on settlements is to convene Oct. 17 to set policy.

The future of the 144 Jewish settlements will be one of the key issues in negotiations on a final peace treaty, to be concluded by next September.

Israel has yet to name a leader of its negotiation team, more than three weeks after Israel and the Palestinians signed the interim accord that sets an ambitious February target date for a framework of a final peace treaty.

The Palestinians picked Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo as their chief negotiator on Sept. 16, three days after the ceremonial resumption of the negotiations.

The Palestinians said they did not expect the talks to begin until next week, after the Jewish holiday period.

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