Israel to expand West Bank housing

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Israel announced plans yesterday for more houses in the occupied West Bank, in defiance of the Mitchell report's call for a total building freeze.

The proposals were issued as Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister, was preparing to meet President George Bush in Washingtonto drive home his view that Yasser Arafat is the villain of the conflict and to urge America to pressure the Palestinian leader to do more to end the violence.

Israel's Lands Authority published tenders for 38 plots in Maaleh Adumim, by far the largest settlement in the West Bank, where Israel continues to build in defiance of international law.

The announcement undercut an order, made public yesterday, to evacuate 15 new settler "outposts" that have cropped up on the West Bank since the premier's election.

Israel has mounted a massive publicity drive to persuade the international community that it has accepted the Mitchell report, which calls for a full settlement freeze. The new tenders, which come less than a month after Israel's Housing Minister, Natan Sharansky, confirmed plans for more then 700 new settler homes, scarcely suggest a willingness to accept that condition.