Army Blocks Settler Attempts to Expand Settlements
MAALEH AMOS, West Bank (AP) _ Jewish settlers, in defiance of government restrictions, tried to expand two settlements in the occupied West Bank today but were blocked by the army.
The attempt came a day after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s government approved construction of more than 3,000 new homes in three West Bank settlements surrounding Jerusalem.
Angry Palestinians said the expansion violates Israel’s stated policy of freezing new settlements. But the settlers were angry that the government did not authorize expansion of most of the 144 settlements in the West Bank, where more than 140,000 Jewish settlers live among 1 million Palestinians.
Settlers at Maaleh Amos, eight miles south of Bethlehem, set up trailers on three surrounding hilltops.
Troops rushed to the scene, as did dozens of angry Palestinians from a nearby village who claimed the land was theirs. The soldiers asked the Palestinians to disperse and promised to remove the trailers, which were missing windows and did not appear inhabitable.
Shilo Gal, a settler leader, said the trailers were on land allocated them for future construction and were placed there to ensure it wasn’t taken away. The settlement was not on the expansion list.
Maj. Elise Shazar, spokeswoman for the military government in the occupied lands, said two of the trailers were beyond the settlement boundaries and would be removed. The third could remain because it was on settlement land, she said.
``They are stronger than us, and they don’t care about us and do what they want,″ said Suleiman Rashaydeh, a Palestinian demonstrator. ``Israel talks about democracy and peace and they steal land. We will not allow them to do this, even if we die here.″
In the other incident, shortly after dawn, two bulldozers began plowing a dirt path on a barren hillside south of Kochav Yaakov, a settlement just north of Jerusalem also left off the expansion list. Settlers planted pine saplings as a sign of ownership.
``We are planting trees and plowing roads and setting up infrastructure in order that this land will remain ours not just for the next two or three years, but for the next 10, 15, and 20 years,″ said Pinchas Wallerstein, a settler leader.
Soldiers later went to the site and ordered the work stopped. By mid-morning, the bulldozers were gone and only an Israeli flag, planted in the ground, could be seen.
The settlers plan to build 500 homes on the hill, said Yehuda Regev, secretary of Kochav Yaacov, a community of 150 families.
Palestinians reacted angrily to the news of today’s groundbreaking. Khader Alem, head of the land defense committee in the nearby Palestinian town Ramallah, said protests were planned, but said Palestinians were constrained by an army ban on gatherings of more than 10 people without a permit.
``We want to avoid bloody confrontation with the army,″ he said.
The Palestinians have said the continued settlement activity endangers Israel-PLO peace talks.
``It violates all our agreements with Israel,″ Palestinian Housing Minister Zakaria el-Agha said. ``It will destroy the whole peace process.″
Today’s work was the latest in a monthold campaign by settlers to stake their claims to land before a planned Israeli troop withdrawal from large parts of the West Bank.
Israel and the PLO are negotiating an agreement to redeploy Israeli troops before Palestinian elections as part of an autonomy agreement.