A series of recommendations drawn up by a government-appointed lawyer to curb the building of illegal settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank has been rejected by the Israeli Justice Ministry.
The move was seen by Israeli peace campaigners as an ominous first sign of a possible attempt to stop important parts of the report - which exposed a long history of secret government connivance in the creation of the outposts - from being implemented or enforced.
Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, promised this week when he announced he was forming a new party that he would meet a US demand to dismantle the illegal outposts built since he came to power but omitted to say when.
Mr Sharon himself commissioned the report from the former state prosecutor Talia Sasson, which called for "drastic steps" to halt the outposts - up to half of which she identified as being in breach of Israeli as well as international law.
The government puts the figure built since 2001 at around 21 but Peace Now, which monitors settlement growth, puts it at nearer 50.
While the Justice Ministry says it has agreed to implement some recommended legislative changes, such as making the construction of an illegal outpost a criminal violation, it has rejected four, which it claimed last night were "not so relevant on this issue". It strongly defended its decisions last night, insisting it was already putting in motion "all the changes we need to make to prevent the building of illegal outposts".
Ms Sasson said in an interview with the Haaretz newspaper, which revealed the decision yesterday, that she had pointed out in her report that "political approval of construction in the territories is essential in that it has political significance".
Dror Etkes of Peace Now said the organisation would ensure that the illegal settlements would be raised during the election.
In a separate development, Shimon Peres, ousted as Labour party leader by Amir Peretz, announced that he will staywith Labour and not join Mr Sharon.
The Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, and the Defence Minister, Shaul Mofaz, the two rivals to Benjamin Netanyahu for the leadership of Likud after Mr Sharon's decision to quit, vied to present themselves as worthy contestants in an electoral fight with Mr Peretz.
When Mr Shalom and Mr Mofaz proclaimed their credentials on social issues, Mr Shalom described Mr Mofaz as a "cream-fed kid from Rehavia (an upmarket area of Jerusalem) who hurt the poor". Mr Mofaz responded: "There are many leaders who grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth and Bibi [Netanyahu] is one of them."
* An Israeli civilian was rescued by troops after his hang-glider was blown across the Lebanon border. The man was seen landing 50 metres inside Lebanon by Hizbollah militants and sprinted to an Israeli army outpost where troops opened the gate as the militants started shooting.Reuse content