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More Homes Approved in West Bank

January 8, 1998

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Despite a U.S. call for a construction timeout, Israel has approved 300 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a settler leader and Israeli media said today.

The decision came as President Clinton’s envoy, Dennis Ross, shuttled between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, trying to break the deadlock in the peace talks.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has urged Israel to suspend Jewish settlement expansion to improve the atmosphere in negotiations with the Palestinians. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would not slow down construction.

Palestinians reacted angrily to the new construction plans.

``This is defiance, especially during Ross’ visit,″ the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said today. ``He (Netanyahu) is determined by any means to stop the peace process before his term.″

The Palestinians hope to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and fear that each new home in a Jewish settlement makes their goal increasingly unattainable.

Yinon Achiman, the mayor of the Jewish settlement of Efrat, confirmed today that the government has approved the construction of 200 more homes in a new neighborhood, Givat Hazayit. About 5,000 people live in Efrat.

In addition, 94 new apartments have been approved in the settlement of Elkana, Israel radio said.

Recent visits by The Associated Press to 65 of the 144 West Bank settlements found more than 7,500 apartments and houses being built _ enough to increase the settler population by at least 30,000 people, or more than 20 percent, over the next two years.

In addition to the homes under construction, hundreds have been completed in recent months, and thousands more are planned.

The government refuses to say how much construction it has authorized overall.

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