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UPDATED: 19:05, January 19, 2007
Israeli defense minister freezes settlement plan in Jordan Valley
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Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz has withdrawn his approval for the construction of 30 housing units in a northern Jordan Valley settlement, Israel Radio said on Friday.

According to the report, Peretz's representative informed the Jordan Valley regional council on Thursday that the construction plans would be frozen until a new decision is made on the matter.

About three weeks ago, the defense minister approved the construction of 30 housing units in the Maskiot settlement for families evacuated from Gush Katif.

The authorization made Maskiot the first new settlement being approved in about 10 years. Work was originally scheduled to begin in the upcoming days.

However, shortly after the plan was made public, the U.S. State Department condemned the decision. Foreign embassies in Israel, including those of European Union countries, also demanded clarifications from the government.

Both the EU and the U.S. have said that the initiative violates Israel's international commitments with respect to the West Bank.

The large-scale criticism from the international community as well as his own Labor Party apparently led to the retraction of the approval.

Maskiot, which is located off an isolated road, has been populated on and off since 1982. Currently, it is home to a few permanent residents and a small pre-army academy.

The new homes would be constructed adjacent to the existing structures and would more than triple the number of structures on the site.

Source: Xinhua

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