West Bank Jewish numbers up 3.4% in 2017: settlers

A construction site is seen in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, in the occupied West Bank December 22, 2016. (Reuters)
Updated 24 January 2018
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West Bank Jewish numbers up 3.4% in 2017: settlers

JERUSALEM: The Jewish population of the Israeli-occupied West Bank grew by 3.4 percent to 435,708 in 2017, the main organization representing the settlers said on Tuesday.
The figures, released by the Yesha Council, exclude the estimated 200,000 Israelis living in occupied and annexed east Jerusalem.
The overall number of Israeli citizens has been growing by an average of two percent annually.
A statement by the council welcomed the latest growth figures while lamenting what it called a “silent freeze” in construction of settler homes.
“The government announces construction in Judaea and Samaria but we do not see the results on the ground,” it said, using the Hebrew biblical term for the West Bank.
On January 11 authorities approved more than 1,100 new West Bank homes for Israelis, settlement watchdog Peace Now said.
That followed approval of 6,742 settler building projects last year, the NGO said, the highest figure since 2013.
Israel faced sharp criticism from the administration of former US president Barack Obama over settlement construction.
But that has not been the case under his successor Donald Trump, and Israeli officials have sought to take advantage.
The Yesha Council is made up predominantly of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who account for the overwhelming majority of residents of the two biggest settlements.
They are Modiin Ilit, west of Ramallah, with a population of 70,119, and Beitar Ilit, southwest of Jerusalem, with 56,485 inhabitants.
The ultra-Orthodox comprise about 10 percent of the overall Israeli population.
The third most populated settlement in the West Bank is Maaleh Adumim, east of Jerusalem, with a mixed population of 40,996 secular and religiously observant Jews.
Israeli settlements are seen as illegal under international law and major obstacles to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Prominent members of Netanyahu’s right-wing government openly oppose Palestinian statehood and the settler lobby has strong political influence.
Some 600,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem in often confrontational proximity to nearly three million Palestinians.


Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

Russian soldiers distribute aid in the central Syrian province of Homs. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

  • A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west
  • The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone

MOSCOW: The Russian Defense Ministry said it was coordinating efforts to help Syrian refugees return home and rebuild the country’s infrastructure destroyed by the civil war.
Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said in a conference call that included Russian and Syrian officials that work is underway to rebuild dozens of Syria’s power stations, schools and other vital institutions.
In Damascus, Syrian Public Administration Minister Hussein Makhlouf pledged the regime would protect refugee property rights and grant returning refugees a year’s deferral from military conscription.
“The Syrian government is working to simplify procedures for refugees who return, repair housing and try to create new jobs,” Makhlouf said, adding that the authorities were also working to streamline legislation to facilitate refugee returns.
He dismissed as hostile “propaganda” claims that some refugees were facing arrests on their return.
Makhlouf called on Western nations to drop their sanctions against Damascus, introduced early in the seven-year conflict, in order to help post-war restoration and encourage the return of the refugees.
Mizintsev said that over 1.2 million of internally displaced Syrians and about 300,000 refugees have returned in the past two and a half years.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin might take part in a summit with the leaders of Turkey and Iran at the beginning of September.
The three leaders met in April at a summit in Ankara where they discussed developments in Syria.
With help from its Russian ally, President Bashar Assad’s regime has expelled fighters from large parts of Syria’s south since June.
Israel has repeatedly pledged to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence along its border. A series of airstrikes that killed Iranians inside Syria have been attributed to Israel.
A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west.
The Russian army’s Lt.-Gen. Sergei Kuralenko told reporters on an organized press tour this week how “stability” had returned to the buffer zone.
Apart from “a few problems with Daesh” in its southern tip, the demilitarized zone was “entirely under control of Syrian military police,” Kuralenko said.
“Everything is ready” for the return of UN troops, he said, after the peacekeepers were forced to withdraw in 2014.
After retaking most of the two southern provinces adjacent to the buffer zone, regime forces last month raised their flag inside, above the key border crossing of Quneitra.
The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone, Kuralenko said, and plan to set up four more in the near future.
They are “willing to hand them over to the UN if it says it is ready to ensure the monitoring of the Golan alone,” he said.