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Tensions Erupt over Plan to House Soviet Jews in Heavily Arab Area

Potential for confrontation loomed Wednesday over plans to house newly arrived Soviet immigrants in the middle of an Arab city.

Tension ran high in Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel, after Housing Minister Ariel Sharon announced he was determined to push ahead with a plan to settle 1,400 newcomers from the Soviet Union in an army camp in the middle of an Arab-populated area.

Residents of the adjacent Jewish township of Upper Nazareth think the idea is impractical, given the opposition of local Arabs.

Authorities on the scene had decided to drop the plan, fearing clashes with the Arab community.

But Sharon declared Wednesday that the plan would go forward.

“It is unacceptable that immigrants will not be housed in Eretz Yisrael as a result of any sort of threats,” he said.

The initial plan called for evacuating the soldiers in the army camp before settling immigrants there. But residents of Upper Nazareth have asked that the army remain.

Uri Shani, regional director of the housing company Amidar, promised security arrangements for the new olim.

“We have no other choice,” he said. “We must find those immigrants proper housing.”