UPDATED ON:
Monday, February 16, 2009 
19:39  Mecca time, 16:39  GMT     
 
News Middle East  
 
Israel seizes West Bank land   
 
 
Palestinians and peace activists have protested against Israeli settlements 
[GALLO/GETTY]    Israel
has taken control of a large area near a prominent settlement in the
Palestinian West Bank, paving the way for a possible construction of
2,500 settlement homes, officials have said.
Oded Revivi, the mayor of Efrat, said on Monday that the Israeli
military has designated 425 acres near the settlement of about 1,600
families south of Jerusalem, as so-called 
state land two weeks ago. Revivi
said Efrat plans to build 2,500 homes on that land, but government
approval would still be needed before construction begins, a process
that could take years.

Eventually, Efrat is to grow to a city of 30,000 people, he said.
The settlement is situated in one of three settlement blocs Israel
expects to hold on to in any final peace deal with the Palestinians.
Revivi said nine appeals, eight of which were rejected and one was upheld, had 
been filed by Palestinian landowners. 

'Sticking point'

Al
Jazeera's Nour Odeh, reporting from Ramallah, West Bank, said
the "confiscation [of the land], which by international law is deemed
illegal, has been greeted with condemnation among Palestinian circles".

"We've
seen statements from these leaderships describing this measure as
condemnable, calling on the international community to take a firm
stance," she said.

"... This will undoubtedly be a major
sticking point when the US peace envoy George Mitchell visits the
region towards the end of the month.

"This is what [the]
Palestinians will be concentrating on. Already we've heard from the
Palestinian president's office that there will be no negotiations until
all settlement activities in the occupied West Bank including east
Jerusalem stops."

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has warned that continued settlement 
expansion would cripple peace talks. 

His aides said recently that peace talks can only resume after a settlement 
freeze.
Expansion could also create friction with the US, as Mitchell, the
US Middle East envoy, has long called on Israel to halt construction in
settlements.
Nearly 290,000 Israelis currently live in West Bank settlements.  
 Source: Al Jazeera and agencies   
 
 
      
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