Hisham Abu Taha: Israel Pushes for New WB Settlements

By Hisham Abu Taha
GAZA – Five Palestinians, including a woman and three teenagers, were killed and several wounded by Israeli fire in the Gaza Strip yesterday, as both Hamas and Israel cautiously welcomed the support from world powers for its participation in a Palestinian coalition government.

Israel, whose major offensive edged toward its fourth month, says its assault in Gaza, where more than 200 Palestinians have been killed since late June, is aimed at securing the release of a soldier captured by militants nearly three months ago, and stopping rocket attacks.

Yesterday’s violence came just hours after the four major powers sponsoring stalled peace efforts voiced strong support for a bid by moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to form a government with Hamas.

Amid all this Israel invited bids for construction of 164 new housing units in the occupied West Bank yesterday, the second expansion push in less than three weeks.

The Israeli Housing Ministry published advertisements in the local press inviting the bids for 88 new units in Ariel in central West Bank, 56 units in Alfei Meache in the north and 26 units in Karnei Shomron, also in the north. The move was slammed by the Palestinian government and Israel’s anti-settlement Peace Now group. Palestinian Justice Minister Ahmed Al-Khaldi told AFP that the move was “an aggressive act against the Palestinians and Palestinian land.”

“We can’t do anything because this action is based on power, but this power does not give Israel any right to continue stealing land and adding houses.” Peace Now said in a statement that “the (Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert government again is proving that instead of dismantling outposts and freezing construction in the settlements, the government is planning to authorize tens of illegal outposts, and continues to construct throughout.”

Earlier, Hamas said that support from world powers for its participation in a Palestinian coalition government was a good first step, while Israel remained wary of the move that appeared to mark a softening stance toward the movement. In New York Wednesday, the quartet for Middle East peace — the European Union, Russia, United Nations and United States — voiced their support for a bid by Abbas to form a government with Hamas.

– (www.ArabNews.com), wiith input from agencies

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