Israeli settlers began work on a new neighbourhood in the Gaza Strip on Monday, a day after members of the ruling Likud Party rejected Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s proposal to pull out of Gaza.
Sharon has proposed withdrawing from all 21 settlements in Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank. About 60% of Likud voters opposed the plan, largely swayed by a well-organised campaign led by Jewish settlers.
Despite the setback, aides to Sharon said he will look for ways to promote the plan.
On Monday, about 150 residents of the Neve Dekalim settlement gathered under Israeli flags to lay the cornerstone for 22 plots on almost 1,2ha of land.
Settlers said the expansion is an answer to Sharon’s plan and a Palestinian shooting attack on Sunday that killed a settler mother and her four children.
“I see this as a symbol today after all that has happened,” said Esther Lilienthal (67), originally from New York City. “It says we’re here to stay.”
A local rabbi, Yigal Kaminetzky, said that Sharon’s loss in the Likud referendum proves that the settlers’ fervent religious beliefs win out in the end. Many Jewish settlers are Orthodox Jews who believe the biblical Land of Israel was granted to the Jews by God.
Also Monday, at least a dozen Israelis moved under cover of darkness into two homes in the Arab neighbourhood of Abu Dis in east Jerusalem as part of the formation of a new neighbourhood, said Daniel Luria, a spokesperson for the Ateret Cohanim group, which organised the move.
The homes were legally bought from Arab owners and are located on land owned by Jews since the beginning of the last century, Luria said. He said Jerusalem’s municipality had approved the new “East of Zion” neighbourhood.
Abu Dis lies along the boundary between the West Bank and Jerusalem. About one-third of Abu Dis lies inside Jerusalem.
There was no immediate Palestinian reaction to Ateret Cohanim’s move. Similar efforts in the past have sparked tensions due to disputes over land and property.
The Palestinians and much of the international community oppose Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed.
Palestinians say Jewish settlements serve as a barrier to their hopes to establish a state in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and east Jerusalem. — Sapa-AP