Nine in 10 Israeli settlements sprawl beyond their official boundaries in an attempt to grab more land in the West Bank, which the Palestinians claim for a future state, a group that tracks Israeli construction in the territory said Friday.
According to the report, 91 percent of the land allocated to settlements by the government is still empty, indicating that the use of land outside settlement boundaries does not "derive from a land shortage in the settlements" but from "a desire to expropriate more land." Israeli authorities do little to enforce building laws in the settlements, the report said.
The report also said 10 percent of the land officially allocated to the settlements is privately owned Palestinian land that Israel seized.
Yishai Hollander, a spokesman for the Yesha settlers council, accused Peace Now of continuing a "campaign of lies," saying the settlement jurisdictions do not include any land that belongs to Palestinians.
Peace Now's allegations, Hollander said, "are totally divorced from reality."
There are 122 official Israeli settlements in the West Bank, along with around 100 unauthorized settlement outposts. The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as part of a future state, and the international community has criticized Israel's settlement activities as an obstacle to peace.
Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for Israel's military administration in the West Bank, did not deny there were instances of settlement encroachment but said many of the failings noted in the Peace Now report have been corrected since the mid-1990s.
"Today we have better enforcement, the ownership of land is checked and we pursue legal action when necessary," Dror said.
Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press