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Israeli Housing Minister: Jordan Valley will remain an essential part of Israel

Israel's Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the right-wing Jewish Home Party said on Thursday that the Jordan Valley, in the eastern part of the West Bank, will not be isolated from the State of Israel, Israel's Jerusalem Post newspaper reported.

The newspaper quoted Ariel as saying, "Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean there will be one nation with sovereignty, and that is Israel."

Ariel further remarked: "The Jordan Valley is not isolated. Everything that is west of the Jordan [River] will be in Israel's hands. There is not a situation in which someone will uproot its settlements, or do anything else that would mean destruction."

The minister promised that his ministry "will do everything it can to prioritize the Jordan Valley as an essential part of the State of Israel and as a [security] shield along its border with Jordan."

Meanwhile, Israel's Jordan Valley Regional Council has announced a plan to triple the region's illegal settler population in the next ten years. The regional council head David Elhayani told the newspaper that: "Over the last nine months, US officials and military experts visited the area and agreed it was strategically vital to Israel."

The Jerusalem Post also reported recent remarks by MK Ofir Akunis of the ruling Likud party, who spoke at the Jordan Valley Conference warning the audience that Hamas would seize control of the Jordan Valley if Israel withdrew from it.

Referring to the Palestinian reconciliation agreement, Akunis claimed the Israeli government had received evidence indicating that this was going to happen, adding that any withdrawal from the Jordan Valley would be 'national suicide'.

The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the occupied territories, B'Tselem, issued a report pointing out that since 1967, Israel has been very active in its annexation of the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, which represents approximately 30 per cent of the West Bank and constitutes the largest land reserve for the Palestinians.

The Israeli right insists on maintaining the settlement blocs inside the occupied Palestinian territories under any future peace deal, while the Palestinian side refuses.

The Israeli government is under increasing international criticism over its settlement activities, as they are widely believed to hinder the peace process.

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