WEST BANK Residents support settlement project



The United States opposes settlement construction, the State Department said.
MAALEH ADUMIM, West Bank (AP) -- Israeli trucks and bulldozers moved ahead today with construction of a West Bank road on a hilly rock-strewn area where Israeli officials say they will build thousands of new housing units.
The project, intended to link the sprawling Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem four miles away, defies an internationally supported peace plan demanding a halt in Israeli settlement activity.
The project must go through a lengthy series of approvals by several government ministries before the first bricks can be laid.
The United States publicly condemned a smaller plan to expand Maaleh Adumim earlier this week, but Israeli officials said they will seek U.S. approval for this and other similar expansion projects.
Settlement construction
Meanwhile, Israeli troops left the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun where they have been conducting an operation for six weeks to clear areas used as launching pads for rocket attacks against Israeli towns and settlements. One military official said, however, the troops will redeploy around the town.
The road construction at Maaleh Adumim is concentrated on the hardscrabble hills that lie in the western extremity of the Judean desert.
As trucks and bulldozers worked under a searing summer sun, local Palestinians walked in the direction of A Tor and Issiwiya, two Arab neighborhoods on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
U.S. Mideast envoy Elliot Abrams will discuss the Maaleh Adumim plans during a meeting in Jerusalem later today with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The State Department in Washington said this week the United States opposes all settlement construction.
Israeli control
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia discussed the Maaleh Adumim scheme at a meeting today with Abrams. The construction plan amounts to a "land grab" meant to deny the Palestinians a state, Erekat said.
Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the parliament, said the expansion plan fits President Bush's acknowledgment that large settlement blocs will remain in Israeli control under a final peace deal.
"Contiguity between Maaleh Adumim and Jerusalem is necessary due to the realities. Maaleh Adumim is in the consensus," he said on Israel Radio.
Inside a busy mall in the center of Maale Adumim, local residents expressed strong support for the construction of the new housing units.
"I think it's great," said U.S. native Yitzhak Klein, 47, who moved to Maale Adumim in 1988. "It shows that Jewish settlement in Israel is expanding."

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