Ground broken for first 20 homes in new Jordan Valley settlement
Gov't denies planned 100-home community breaches construction freeze.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
In a move that transformed the undeveloped Maskiot settlement into a new Jordan Valley community, heavy-equipment crews have broken ground in the past few weeks on infrastructure work for 20 single-family homes.
The Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that the work was legal.
The new construction comes at a time when the US is pressuring Israel to freeze all settlement activity.
The government recognized Maskiot - located 15 km. over the pre-1967 armistice line - as a settlement in the mid-1980s. But a new community never formed there.
Initially, in 1982, it housed an IDF Nahal base, and then in 2001 a pre-military religious academy moved to the site.
In December 2006, news broke that some 20 or 30 families from the destroyed Gaza settlements planned to make it their home.
At the time Peace Now claimed, as it still does today, that placing a permanent community on a site that had never hosted one before was tantamount to the creation of a new settlement.
"This is another attempt to skirt the freeze," Hagit Ofram of Peace Now said on Sunday.
The government had contended in 2006 that since the settlement had been authorized decades ago, there was nothing wrong with Jews living there.
But under pressure from Washington, it rescinded the initial authorizations for a permanent 100-unit housing project, which had first been granted approval by prime minister Ariel Sharon and defense ministry Shaul Mofaz.
In 2008, however, the Defense Ministry allowed the placement of six caravans for the Gaza evacuee families at the site and the Interior Ministry allowed the families living there to register Maskiot as their permanent address. It also authorized final building plans for the 20 homes, Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhaiini said on Sunday.
He added that eight families already live in Maskiot, six in modular homes and the other two in older structures. Five more caravans would soon be placed at the site, he said.
Elhaiini said that all the work had been approved and that there was nothing wrong with developing a site that had been authorized decades ago.
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