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Sharon, Porush Vow to Expand Jewish West Bank Settlements

Two Israeli ministers have pledged to build thousands of housing units in the West Bank.

National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon and Deputy Housing Minister Meir Porush, touring settlements north of Ramallah, vowed Tuesday to expand the settler presence there.

Their remarks came against the backdrop of complaints from Jewish settlers that despite a decision by the government earlier this summer to lift a freeze on settlement building in the territories, little has been done to follow through on the promise.

Sharon, who oversaw Israel’s largest settlement drive when he served as housing minister under former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, said Tuesday that he would seek funding to build roads in the region near Ramallah, including three he hoped to finance in the 1997 state budget.

The proposed roads would link the West Bank settlements of Kiryat Sefer, Nachali’el and Nili to the center of the country.

Meanwhile, Sharon and Porush agreed to form a joint ministerial committee that would try to advance infrastructure development and construction in the region.

Sharon indicated earlier in the week that he would approve plans to bring 100,000 more settlers to the West Bank by expanding existing settlements.

Sharon said Tuesday that the natural population growth among the settler population near Ramallah is high and that the area should be appropriately developed.

He estimated that 22,000 housing units could be built in the area.

Sharon maintained that most of the land is state-owned and would not have to be expropriated or purchased.

The Palestinians have repeatedly stated that any further settlement building would undermine the peace process.

One Palestinian official said Monday that Sharon’s plan amounted to a “call to war.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, David Bar Illan, cautioned that the plan had not yet been presented to the government.

The Housing Ministry, led by Porush of the United Torah Judaism bloc, has meanwhile drawn up a plan to build 2,000 housing units for fervently Orthodox families in Kiryat Sefer.

The Housing and Infrastructure ministries have also planned for the construction of 200 additional units — 100 in Kiryat Sefer and 100 in Nachali’el — which would receive government funding for their construction.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported this week that the government has asked for the transfer of some $15 million from budget reserves to finance the building of 200 housing units in the territories.

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