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Haaretz: MKs okay new West Bank homes, despite vow to freeze settlements

By Haaretz Service and News Agencies

To view original article, published by Haaretz on 24th July, click here

A key panel of lawmakers on Thursday approved 20 new housing units at Maskiot in the West Bank, Israel Radio reported, despite a 2007 pledge to the United States to halt construction at the site.

Jerusalem agreed to hold off on plans to build 180 new homes in the settlement, as part of a general freeze on Israeli construction in the West Bank.

But the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has now given approval for the construction of the housing units and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is slated to grant authorization soon.

About two dozen residents of the former Gaza Strip settlement of Shirat Hayam moved into Maskiot last year.

Maskiot was legally established in 1982, housed an army unit and a school and has had civilians living there for several years. Israel planned in 2006 to build within its confines homes for Gush Katif evacuees.

There was no immediate government response to the report, which is certain to raise the ire of Palestinian and United States leaders, who have been pushing Israel to freeze construction in the settlements as part of the road map peace plan.

Israel has promised not to establish new settlements and refrain from construction in its existing communities in the West Bank.

Still, the government has approved construction in areas of East Jerusalem past the Green Line. Although these areas are heavily surrounded by an Arab population, Israel does not consider them settlements.

The Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee earlier this month approved the construction of 1,800 new housing in Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev, two neighborhoods over the Green Line division.

The plan, which still requires approval from Jerusalem’s local committee, includes the construction of 920 new housing units in Har Homa and 880 units in Pisgat Ze’ev.

Such expansion goes against the official stance of the U.S. government, which opposes construction in East Jerusalem.