Arafat: New Settlement Construction Violates Agreements
EREZ CROSSING, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Yasser Arafat accused Israel on Wednesday of violating its peace agreements with the Palestinians by approving construction of 1,800 new homes in the West Bank.
The building of new housing units in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Sefer had been frozen by the previous Israeli government as part of its peacemaking efforts with the Palestinians.
The news that the construction had received final approval from Israel’s Defense Ministry was publicized by settler leaders Wednesday, hours before Arafat met with Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai in previously scheduled talks.
Mordechai was stern-faced as he shook hands with Arafat at the Erez crossing on the Israel-Gaza border, becoming the third Cabinet official of the new hard-line Israeli government to meet the Palestinian leader.
Earlier, Arafat told reporters in Gaza City after a meeting with American envoy Dennis Ross that ``there is no doubt that this decision taken by Mr. Mordechai is another breach of what we have agreed upon and what we have signed.″
Ross said the United States believes settlement building ``complicates the negotiating process.″
Arafat and Mordechai were also to discuss Israel’s six-month delay in withdrawing from Hebron, the last West Bank city under Israeli control.
Jewish settlers claimed Wednesday that Israel and the Palestinians had reached agreement on a pullout to be implemented after the Jewish holidays in October.
But David Bar-Illan, a top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, denied any timetable had been said. ``All assignments of dates are wrong and misleading,″ he said.
Israel’s deputy education minister, Moshe Peled, meanwhile, led a field trip of 150 schoolgirls to Hebron. It was the first of a series of trips planned by the Education Ministry to promote the city’s ancient Jewish heritage.
Under the autonomy agreements, Israel was supposed to have pulled its troops out of Palestinian areas of Hebron in March, but the withdrawal was postponed after a series of suicide bombings in Israel. Netanyahu has said he wants to modify the agreement to increase security for the 450 Jewish settlers who live in Hebron, a city of 94,000 Palestinians.
Settler spokesman Yehiel Leiter said Wednesday ``the agreement as it stands is a death wish″ for the settlers.
``If the agreement is implemented as it is, it will be impossible for the Jewish community to grow or for the army to protect them,″ he said.
Also on the agenda for the Arafat-Mordechai meeting was Israel’s promised withdrawal from other areas of the West Bank.
Israel still controls more than two-thirds of the West Bank, which it captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War. Under the autonomy agreement, Israel was supposed to carry out three further withdrawals _ the first by this week _ that would turn over most of the West Bank other than Israeli settlements and military installations to Palestinian control.
Netanyahu, who took office in June, has suggested Israel should not turn over so much land to the Palestinians.
Wednesday’s meeting follows a Sept. 4 meeting between Netanyahu and Arafat that produced few concrete results. In July, Arafat met with Foreign Minister David Levy.