Israel court puts 60-day hold on settlement razings

JERUSALEM Sun Apr 29, 2012 6:26pm EDT

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's Supreme Court postponed the razing of five unauthorized buildings in the West Bank on Sunday, a ruling that gave the government more time to argue against their demolition and placate pro-settler political partners.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government agreed last year to remove the apartment blocks on the edge of the Beit El settlement, after a court ruled they were built on private Palestinian land.

But Netanyahu has come under intense pressure from within his own right-wing Likud party and from other pro-settler coalition allies to delay the demolition.

The court said it would freeze the demolition, originally scheduled for May 1, for 60 days and meet again at the end of that period to hear the government's argument.

"No later than 60 days from today the State Attorney's office will present an updated declaration and according to what it says, we will decide how to proceed with this petition," part of the court's ruling said.

A statement by the Yesh Din human rights group that helped the Palestinian land owner bring the petition said the ruling showed the court had bowed to political pressure.

Yesh Din director Haim Erlich said it was "a disturbing decision that raises the concern the Supreme Court cannot withstand the heavy pressure exerted on it by the Israeli government".

On Friday, the government asked for a three-month delay, citing "operational reasons", although it did not say what they were.

Most of the international community views all Jewish settlements in the West Bank as illegal. Israel distinguishes between settlements it has approved and outposts which were never granted official authorization.

Netanyahu's government is trying to retrospectively legalize some of the sites that settlers erected without the approval of the Israeli authorities, drawing often strong condemnation from Western allies and Palestinian leaders.

Last week, the government granted legal status to three previously unauthorized Jewish outposts - a move critics said had effectively created the first new official settlements in more than two decades.

Palestinians fear such outposts, and 130 formal settlements Israel has built in the territory it captured in a 1967 war, will deny them a viable state they want to establish in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

About 350,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, with a further 200,000 living on annexed land in East Jerusalem.

(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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