HeidelbergCement searching for new site for West Bank quarry

HEIDELBERG, Germany, May 4 (Reuters) - Germany’s HeidelbergCement is looking for a new site in the Israeli occupied West Bank following long-standing criticism from investors about its operations in parts of the territory that are fully under Israel’s control.

HeidelbergCement excavates sand and gravel in the West Bank’s resource-rich Area C, which is administered by Israel and is home to the vast majority of Jewish settlements. The Palestinians want all of the West Bank, including Area C, which accounts for 60 percent of the territory, for their own state.

An umbrella organisation of critical shareholders has long called for HeidelbergCement to give up its operations in the territory, which it acquired when it bought British company Hanson in 2007, saying the quarry violates international law.

The organisation said that four pension funds in Norway and Denmark have placed HeidelbergCement on a black list in recent months and said they could not invest in the construction materials group for ethical reasons.

Chief Executive Bernd Scheifele told the firm’s annual meeting in Heidelberg on Wednesday that he rejected claims the quarry violated international law but said the company would address investor concerns all the same.

“The mining permit expires next year and we are endeavouring at the moment to find an alternative solution,” Scheifele said.

Closing the quarry, which employs around 100 people, would not make sense for the shareholders or the workers and the company cannot sell the open cut mine due to a lack of interest, he said. As a result, it is aiming for a joint venture with a Palestinian mine operator.

The company will look for a new quarry in Area B, where Palestinians share responsibility for security with Israel and have sovereignty over the economy.

Israel has occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the 1967 Middle East war. Most of the world considers settlements built on the land, and Israel’s exploitation of natural resources there, a violation of international law. Israel disputes that and continues to build settlements. (Reporting by Ilona Wissenbach; Writing by Caroline Copley; Editing by Keith Weir)