Jewish West Bank settlers vow to defy Netanyahu's building freeze

Defiant West Bank settler leaders rejected a personal plea from the Prime Minister yesterday to respect a government-ordered residential construction freeze, vowing to keep confronting security forces sent to enforce the edict.

In the West Bank, Jewish settlers blocked inspectors from entering a settlement to search for unauthorised construction, the third straight day of such confrontations.

There has been no violence, but authorities have made at least four arrests. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, summoned settler leaders in a bid to defuse the tensions.

Settler leader Dani Dayan called the meeting in Tel Aviv "difficult" and "emotionally charged". He said the settlers would continue their struggle against the freeze, both through civil disobedience and legal challenges. The settlers have scheduled a mass demonstration next week in Jerusalem.

During the two-hour meeting, Mr Netanyahu told settlers: "You have the right to demonstrate. You have the right to protest. You have the right to express an opinion, but it's unacceptable not to respect a decision that was taken by law."

An Israeli official said Mr Netanyahu agreed to consider the requests but made no promises. "We need to get through this period together through co-operation, instead of creating an atmosphere of crisis," Mr Netanyahu said, repeating a pledge to resume construction at the end of the freeze.

Mr Netanyahu announced the 10-month freeze on building new homes last week in an attempt to restart peace talks with the Palestinians, who refuse to resume talks until Israel halts all construction in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem – territories they claim for a future independent state.

They say Mr Netanyahu's freeze order is insufficient because it does not include east Jerusalem or 3,000 homes already under construction in the West Bank.

Some 300,000 settlers live illegally in the West Bank, in addition to 180,000 Jewish Israelis living in east Jerusalem.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, uprooting all 8,000 settlers who were living there.