Jewish Settlers Defy Netanyahu's Settlement Freeze; Block Inspectors

Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference with Israel's President Shimon Peres, not pictured, at the President's residence in Jerusalem Friday, Feb.20, 2009. Netanyahu of the hawkish Likud Party has received formal permission from Israel's ceremonial president to put together the country's next government. At a ceremony at President Shimon Peres' residence, Netanyahu urged Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of the governing Kadima Party and Defense Minister Ehud Barak of the Labor Party to join his government. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
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EFRAT SETTLEMENT, West Bank -- Leaders of the Jewish settlement movement poured concrete for the foundations of a new synagogue Wednesday in this West Bank settlement south of Jerusalem.

The event clearly organized for media exposure was meant to send a message to the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the settler community would not accept the 10-month building ban he ordered without resistance, according to settler activists present at the event.

Dany Dayan, the chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, the official body representing Jewish settlements in the West Bank told CNN he is deeply disappointed with Israel's prime Minister and expressed skepticism that the 10 month ban would in fact end.

"How can you believe the words of prime minister that promised before the election that our community will flourish ... and now he freezes all of them? What kind of words can you say about a prime minister that before an election plants a tree at an outpost and then freezes construction all over Judea and Samaria (biblical names for the West Bank)?" he asked.

Netanyahu, seeking to allay settler fears that the building ban would be indefinite emphasized in a speech Tuesday that it would be of limited scope.

"This is a one-time and temporary decision," said Netanyahu. "Just as was written in the security cabinet decision, and just as I have made clear in both public and private meetings, we will go back to building at the end of the suspension."

The prime minister's words did not soothe the anger of settlers who continued Wednesday for a third straight day to block government inspectors sent to enforce the ban.

An Israeli police spokesman told CNN that when a police force entered the settlement of Beit Arieh the entrance road was blocked by the head of the regional council and by council cars. All requests asking them to clear the road were denied and therefore the policeman was forced to arrest the council head.

Similar confrontations erupted in other parts of the West Bank, where groups of settlers forcibly tried to keep away inspectors enforcing the ban. Banners have been put up at entrances to Jewish settlements declaring "No entrance to the inspectors of Bibi's freeze," referring to the Israeli leader's nickname.

The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported Wednesday afternoon that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had invited settler leaders to a meeting at his offices in Tel Aviv Wednesday night in an attempt to lower tensions.

The 10-month freeze on new housing projects in the West Bank -- but excluding east Jerusalem -- was announced last week by Netanyahu following a meeting of his Security Cabinet. In announcing the ban, Netanyahu appealed to the Palestinian Authority to take advantage of the 10-month "window" to resume negotiations.

The Obama administration had requested the ban earlier this year as a way of jump starting the peace process with the Palestinians.

The international reaction to Netanyahu's announcement has been mixed. The American administration said it was a step in the right direction. The Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, has rejected the freeze as inadequate, because it does not apply to east Jerusalem and is temporary in scope.

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