The Palestinian Authority this week accused Israel of planning to declare another 2 percent of the West Bank state land, thus effectively expropriating it.

But the defense establishment rejected this claim, saying the land in question had been under the Dead Sea until the shrinkage of that body of water uncovered it and the goal of the declaration is to prevent the land from being taken over by private or commercial entities.

It is not clear which claim is correct.

The storm erupted after 12 Arabic-language advertisements were published in the East Jerusalem paper Al-Quds last Friday by the land registry office in the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim. The ads stated that the Custodian of State Property had asked the registry to register additional lands as state lands, and requested anyone who claimed ownership of these lands to present their claims to the Civil Administration in the West Bank within 45 days.

Each advertisement dealt with a different plot of land, detailing its borders and giving map references. Altogether, the land in question totals some 138,500 dunams (about 34,600 acres).

The ads aroused furious reactions in the PA, which described the move as annexation.

"We denounce this," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said yesterday. "This attests to what is happening on the ground in practice: more land expropriations."

"How," he added, "can Defense Minister Ehud Barak vow that Israel has no intention of expropriating land when Israel openly states its intent to declare lands amounting to almost 2 percent of the West Bank as state lands?"

Erekat said he has brought the Israeli decision to the attention of the United States, the European Union, Russia and other countries.

While the purpose of the move is not yet completely clear, Erekat continued, "It will presumably, as always, begin with the expansion of a military base and then [end with the expansion of] some settlement or another. That is what they've done since 1967."

Israeli defense sources rejected these claims. They said all the land in question abuts the Dead Sea and was once covered by it, but has been exposed by the sea's steady shrinkage over the years.

Israel wants these areas declared state land in order to prevent private or commercial bodies from taking them over, the sources said.