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

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.


Turkey raises migrant pressure on EU over Syria conflict

Updated 29 February 2020

Turkey raises migrant pressure on EU over Syria conflict

  • Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the Idlib region on Thursday
  • Erdogan may travel next week to Moscow for talks

PAZARKULE: Turkey vowed the Syrian regime will “pay a price” for dozens of dead Turkish soldiers and raised pressure on the EU over the conflict by threatening to let thousands of migrants enter the bloc.
Turkey and Russia, which back opposing forces in the Syria conflict, held high-level talks to try to defuse tensions that have sparked fears of a broader war and a new migration crisis for Europe.
Greek police clashed on Saturday with thousands of migrants who were already gathering on the border to try to enter Europe.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday vowed to allow refugees to travel on to Europe from Turkey which he said can no longer handle new waves of people fleeing war-torn Syria. It already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
The comments were his first after Turkish 34 troops were killed since Thursday in the northern Syria province of Idlib where Moscow-backed Syrian regime forces are battling to retake the last rebel holdout area.
“What did we do yesterday (Friday)? We opened the doors,” Erdogan said in Istanbul. “We will not close those doors ...Why? Because the European Union should keep its promises.”
He was referring to a 2016 deal with the European Union to stop refugee flows in exchange for billions of euros in aid.
In Athens, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis held an emergency meeting to discuss tensions on the border with Turkey.
The Turkish leader said 18,000 migrants have amassed on the Turkish borders with Europe since Friday, adding that the number could reach as many as 30,000 on Saturday.
Thousands of migrants who remained stuck on the Turkish-Greek border were in skirmishes with Greek police on Saturday who fired tear gas to push them back, according to AFP photographer in the western province of Edirne.
The migrants massed at the Pazarkule border crossing responded by hurling stones at the police.
In 2015, Greece became the main EU entry point for one million migrants, most of them refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. The pressure to cope with the influx split the European Union.
“Greece yesterday came under an organized, mass, illegal attack... a violation of our borders and endured it,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Saturday after the emergency meeting with Mitsotakis.
“We averted more than 4,000 attempts of illegal entrance to our land borders.”
A Greek police source said security forces fired tear gas Saturday morning against migrants massing on the Turkish side because the migrants had set fires and opened holes in the border fences.
Armed policemen and soldiers are patrolling the Evros river shores — a common crossing point — and are warning with loudspeakers not to enter Greek territory.
Greek authorities were also using drones to monitor the migrants moves.
Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos told Skai television the situation was under control
“I believe that the borders have been protected,” he said.
According to Hellenic Coast Guard, from early Friday to early Saturday 180 migrants reached the islands of Eastern Aegean, Lesbos and Samos in sea crossings.
The UN said nearly a million people — half of them children — have been displaced in the bitter cold by the fighting in northwest Syria since December.
Turkey said that Turkish forces destroyed a “chemical warfare facility,” just south of Aleppo, in retaliation its soldiers were killed by Syrian regime fire in Idlib.
“As of last night, we blew up a depot housing seven chemical products,” Erdogan said. “We would not want things to reach this point but as they force us to do this, they will pay a price.”
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on sources inside the war-torn country, said that Turkey instead hit a military airport in eastern Aleppo, where the monitoring group says there are no chemical weapons.
Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the Idlib on Thursday, the biggest Turkish military loss on the battlefield in recent years. A 34th Turkish soldier has since died.
The latest incident has raised further tensions between Ankara and Moscow, whose relationship has been tested by violations of a 2018 deal to prevent a regime offensive on Idlib.
As part of the agreement, Ankara set up 12 observation posts in the province but Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces — backed by Russian air power — have pressed on with a relentless campaign to take back the remaining chunks of the territory.
On Friday, Erdogan spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in a bid to scale down the tensions, with the Kremlin saying the two expressed “serious concern” about the situation.
Erdogan may travel next week to Moscow for talks, according to the Kremlin.
Despite being on opposite ends of the war, Turkey, which backs several rebel groups in Syria, and key regime ally Russia are trying to find a political solution.
The United States and the United Nations have called for an end to the Syrian offensive in Idlib and the deadly flare-up raising fresh concerns for civilians caught up in the escalation of the eight-year civil war.