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Levy Disputes Report That Thousands of Israelis Are Moving to West Bank

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy denied a newspaper report Sunday that the housing shortage in Israel has driven thousands of Jews to seek homes in the West Bank.

The New York Times on Sunday quoted Yisrael Harel, head of a settlers council in the West Bank, as saying that 6,000 to 7,000 Jews had moved to West Bank settlements so far this year.

The article reported that although few Soviet Jews are moving to the territories, they are driving Israelis to do so by occupying every available apartment inside Israel.

For Israelis who cannot afford even the lowest monthly rents, housing in the West Bank is attractive, the article said.

Levy disputed the report, telling reporters at a news conference here, “To my knowledge there is no increase in the number of Israelis in the settlements.”

He said Israel’s policy was not to encourage settlement in the administered territories. “But Israel will not bar Israelis from settling wherever they want,” he added.

Levy, who arrived here after Rosh Hashanah, is in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. During his stay, he plans to meet with a number of foreign leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

The meeting with Baker will take place Wednesday and is likely to include discussion of the Bush administration’s reticence to approve $400 million in guarantees for loans to build immigrant housing in Israel.

Levy’s meeting with Shevardnadze is scheduled for next Sunday. Israel is pushing for a resumption of full diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, while the Soviets seem satisfied with high-level diplomatic missions, Levy said.

“We hope to achieve a restoration of diplomatic ties,” he said. “But we cannot ignore the positive developments within the last year, especially the last few months,” he added.

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