Settlers confirm 600 homes being built

A senior settler official says that work has begun on 600 new homes in West Bank settlements since Israel lifted its curb on such construction Sept. 26, mirroring recent findings by the Associated Press and the Israeli watchdog Peace Now.

Foundations already are being dug for at least 350 apartments, while construction of another 200 to 250 homes is in more preliminary stages, the official said Oct. 24. A second settler official said he believes some of the construction is already more advanced, and that out of the total being built, 400 to 500 apartments have reached the stage of foundation work.

Both officials are familiar with the construction and spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to release figures on the delicate topic — which has stalled U.S.-led peace talks and brought significant pressure on all sides to find a diplomatic solution.

Assessing the extent of post-freeze construction is difficult because Israel’s government has declined to release information, and settlement officials generally won’t provide detailed data.

AP and Peace Now said their count was based on visits to 16 settlements and interviews with several settlement mayors who were asked about housing starts in their areas, but did not always elaborate on the stages of construction.

The building spurt of the past weeks — whatever its exact extent — compares to a total of just under 1,900 settlement housing starts in all of 2009, or 36 per week, as reported by the government. — ap