Report: Israeli settlements grow


West Bank settlements are growing despite the government’s pledge to freeze them, a watchdog group said.

The left-wing Peace Now said in a report published Wednesday that 88 settlements are being expanded with government approval.

It further alleged that settlers have circumvented a government ban on transporting caravans – pre-fabribacted housing – to illegal West Bank outposts by assembling the residential units on-site.

Peace Now cited government data showing that the population of West Bank settlers grew by 5.8 percent in the first half of this year, more than three times the growth rate of the population in the rest of the country.

The U.S.-led “road map” for peace with the Palestinians obligates Israel to dismantle West Bank outposts and stop expanding recognized settlements.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is expected to hold a peace conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas later this month, has acknowledged that Israel has not honored all of its road-map commitments.

The Olmert government says it has stopped issuing building permits for new housing in West Bank settlements, though some officials argue that there should be leeway for accommodating “natural growth,” the expanding families of settlement residents.

Only a handful of the scores of West Bank outposts have been dismantled, though Israeli officials have said there could be a crackdown soon.

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