Army Denies Israeli Settlement Report

The Associated Press
Friday, December 29, 2006; 4:55 AM

JERUSALEM -- Israeli settlers have set up 200 mobile homes in the West Bank without official approval during the past six months, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday, citing military documents. But both the army and a settlement watchdog group disputed the report.

The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which took power in May, has promised to block unauthorized settlement activity. However, such activity has increased dramatically since the summer, the report in the Haaretz newspaper said.

The paper said its report was based on statistics obtained from the Civil Administration, the army office in charge of the West Bank, but Civil Administration spokesman Shlomo Dror denied Haaretz's claim.

"There were attempts to transfer trailers, but except for one or two we managed to stop it," Dror said.

Dror Etkes, who monitors settlement activity for the Israeli group Peace Now, said he was "surprised" by the Haaretz report, and wasn't aware of any large movement of trailers during the past six months.

"This doesn't match what I know about what's been going on in the West Bank in recent months," Etkes said.

Most of the trailers have been stationed in so-called outposts rather than existing settlements, Haaretz reported. Settlers have erected more than 100 unauthorized outposts _ some little more than a mobile home or two, others entire neighborhoods near authorized settlements _ during the past decade in a bid to break up Palestinian areas and try to prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

Although Defense Minister Amir Peretz has pledged to dismantle them all, no serious effort has been made to do so.

© 2006 The Associated Press