Around 10,000 Israelis moved into settlements across the occupied West Bank over the course of 2005 while around 9000 settlers were removed from 21 settlements in Gaza and four small enclaves in the West Bank, Peace Now said on Monday.

 

Statistics published in December 2004 showed some 243,900 settlers were living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

 

By December 2005, that number had jumped to at least 245,000, Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Oppenheimer told AFP.

 

According to state records, however, some 253,748 people live in settlements on the Palestinian side of the Green Line because most Gaza evacuees have still not officially registered a change in their residency, he explained.

 

But the increase could be even higher than 1000 depending on how many Gaza settlers relocated to the West Bank and have not yet registered a change in their address, Oppenheimer said.

 

By the end of 2005, the total number of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land stood at 121, compared with 146 a year earlier.

 

Efforts to "legalise" the 102 unauthorised settlement outposts were ongoing in 2005, with permanent construction taking place in 33 of them.

 

No new outposts were established in 2005, but none were evacuated during the year, Peace Now said.

 

Makeshift settlements

The outposts are generally set up as makeshift settlements with caravans but are often later "legalised" by the authorities.

 

Figures quoted in the report also showed that construction began on 1097 new housing units in the first half of 2005, compared with 860 during the same period of the previous year.

 

Most construction is taking place in settlements to the west of the vast separation barrier Israel is building across the West Bank, namely in Beitar Ilit, Modiin Ilit, Alfei Menashe and Maale Adumim, the largest settlement.

 

The majority of work is intiated by the housing and construction ministry.

 

Gross violation

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat expressed anger over the ongoing Jewish settler growth and accused the Israeli government of grossly violating its commitments under the stalled roadmap peace plan.

 

"This shows the Israeli government is in total violation of the roadmap and we call on the quartet to oblige the Israelis to meet their commitments," he told AFP, referring to the four powers that drafted the document.

 

"This shows the Israeli government is in total violation of the roadmap and we call on the quartet to oblige the Israelis to meet their commitments"

Saeb Erakat,
Chief Palestinian negotiator

"The lack of action against Israeli settlement activity is really alarming."

 

Under the roadmap, Israel is obliged to freeze all settlement expansion and demolish all outposts established since March 2001.

 

Last week, Israeli police and soldiers razed nine houses in the Amona outpost near Ram Allah following an appeal to the high court by Peace Now.

 

"In response to the government of Israel's inability and unwillingness to ensure the rule of law in the territories, Peace Now has been forced to turn to the high court in an effort to expose specific areas and attempt to force the government to act on the issue," the group said.

 

Following the Amona ruling, the high court is to decide on additional Peace Now petitions about illegal construction in three more outposts - Emunah, Harsha and Hayovel - within the next 30 days.

 

The international community considers all Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories illegal, regardless of whether they are authorised by the Israeli authorities.