Israel expands settlement bloc near Bethlehem

Construction is a bid to preserve the land for the future expansion, suggesting there were plans to build 2,500 homes.

Updated: Dec 12, 2011, 23:25 PM IST

Jerusalem: Israel has approved construction
of 40 homes in a new settler enclave near the West Bank town
of Bethlehem, effectively expanding a large settlement bloc
there, the defence ministry said on Monday.

"The defence minister approved the construction of 40
housing units in Givat HaDagan in Efrat several months ago,"
the ministry said in a statement, adding that a tender for the
project had been issued by the Israeli Land Authority.

Efrat lies in the sprawling Etzion bloc of settlements
which lies southwest of Bethlehem, with the new district set
to expand the bloc northwards.

The military is also mulling approval for another new
settler enclave just to the west of Givat HaDagan -- a farm
called Givat Eitam which would be built on land just to the
east of the planned route of the vast separation barrier
cutting across the West Bank.

"The IDF is currently reviewing the Efrat regional
council`s request regarding the establishment of a farm in the
area known as Eitam hill. The request refers to a 31 hectares
territory owned by the Himnuta company," a statement from the
military said.

Haaretz, which broke the story today morning, said
construction of the farm was a bid to preserve the land for
the future expansion of Efrat, suggesting there were plans to
build some 2,500 homes in that area.

With completion of the project, which is likely to take
two or three years, "Jewish settlement in the northern Etzion
bloc will reach the edges of Bethlehem`s southernmost
suburbs," the paper said.