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Israel approves plan for Gaza settlers


JERUSALEM - Israel's government approved a relocation plan yesterday under which Jewish settlers who move from the Gaza Strip would be granted the right to purchase land in a nearby coastal area.

Cabinet ministers voted 14-2 to approve relocating families to an area known as Nitzanim, about 12 miles north of the Gaza Strip. The plan would establish a separate local government for the new community if enough residents sign up to move there.

The relocation plan has drawn fire from environmentalists who say the new housing project would endanger plants and wildlife in a neighboring stretch of dunes. Two ministers from the left-leaning Labor Party accused the government of offering seafront land to settlers at a price far below market value and said that creating a new local government could be a burden to Israeli taxpayers.

The Israeli government, which is racing to get settlers to agree to leave their homes before the pullout begins in mid-August, offered additional incentives in the plan approved yesterday. Under its terms, a new local government would be established for the community of relocated settlers if at least 5,000 residents made the move. Having its own local council would give the community access to additional government financial aid and jobs. If fewer than 5,000 signed up, the settlers would be governed by the neighboring city of Ashkelon.

Settlers would be allowed to purchase parcels in Nitzanim for about $50,000 for a one-eighth-acre lot, or $80,000 for a quarter-acre, according to the plan. The amounts would be deducted from the compensation that families will receive from the Israeli government to cover the losses of their homes in Gaza. Compensation will range from $200,000 to $500,000, depending on the size of the families and how long they have lived in Gaza.

About 400 Gaza families have indicated their willingness to move as a group to the new community, according to Israeli news reports. The government has begun bringing trailers to the area to house people while permanent homes are built.

The Israeli withdrawal calls for evacuation of all 21 Gaza settlements along with four others in the northern West Bank, where about 9,000 Jewish settlers live.

Also yesterday, Israeli soldiers and settlers scuffled as the army demolished a string of concrete structures in Gaza that Israeli activists had begun rehabilitating ahead of the planned withdrawal. The battered concrete shells housed Egyptian soldiers before Israel captured the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war.

In recent weeks, settlers had moved into several of the beachfront buildings after replacing roofs and adding drywall interiors. Authorities have recently monitored dozens of other right-wing Jewish activists who have moved into a formerly abandoned hotel. The activists are suspected of taking part in a violent episode against several Palestinians a week ago that included beatings and a shooting.

In other developments, an Israeli teenager died of wounds suffered Friday after Palestinian gunmen opened fire near the West Bank town of Hebron. Aviad Mansour, 16, is the second person killed in the shooting; a 17-year-old boy died in the assault. Gunmen opened fire from a car at a roadside spot where Israeli hitchhikers await rides.

The incident, the second fatal shooting targeting Jewish settlers along West Bank roads last week, came as growing violence has threatened nearly five months of relative calm.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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