A new report released Monday by Peace Now says that several West Bank settlements have annexed land from nature reserves for construction purposes.

The left-wing organization's claim is based on a comparison of aerial photographs of settlements and outposts and maps of nature reserves.

The report, which refers to settlements in the northern West Bank, states that the phenomenon is widespread and a central reason for the popularity of settlements in the area.

The settlers have rejected the findings and accused Peace Now of spreading "false rumors."

The analysis indicates that the territory claimed by 21 settlements and 10 outposts includes land belonging to nature reserves or national parks. According to the report, the settlements have claimed a total of 1,900 dunam in land in this manner.

In some cases, structures were built and roads were paved on reserve and park lands. In other cases, settlements only annexed small plots of land and left them as open areas.

In extreme cases, dozens of structures were built. In the settlement Karnei Shomron, for example, 73 permanent structures were established within the confines of the Kaneh stream reserve. The settlements of Beit Arieh and Negohot combined also saw the construction of over 20 new structures.

According to Peace Now's data, the land of four outposts falls completely within the confines of nature reserves. The most significant of these is the outpost Alonei Shiloh, which consists of 44 structures.

"Those responsible for planning decided that reserve land should be annexed to the settlements, and the motivation was not only preserving nature ? it was political," said Dror Etkes, Peace Now's settlement monitoring coordinator. "When the need to preserve nature stood in opposition to the need to expand construction in the settlement, the settelement's needs triumphed."

Peace Now submitted the list of settlements and outposts that infringe on nature reserves to the attention of the Civil Administration, the Israel Defence Forces branch dealing with the West Bank's civilian population.

The Civil Administration stated in response that "the gradual reduction of nature reserve lands neighboring residential areas is a phenomenon that exists in Israel, and in the Weat Bank, among the entire population, be it Palestinian or Jewish. The Civil Administration combats these phenomena both through preserving the nature reserves and through enforcement activities against illegal construction and land incursions."

The Karnei Shomorn council responded that the community's overall plan had been coordinated with all authorities and does not include a single dunam of nature reserve land. According to the council, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority confirmed that the overall plan does not infringe on nature reserve land.

The Karnei Shomorn council speaker also commented on Alonei Shiloh, saying "the neighborhood is not located within the confines of nature reserves, and the Civil Administration has confirmed this."

Etkes stressed that all of his data is based on aerial photos and official Nature and Parks Authority data. He said a document on West Bank settlement, issued by the Jewish Agency about a decade ago, states that nature reserve lands would be annexed to settlement land allocations.

In several cases, Etkes's claims were confirmed by a Nature and Parks Authority response to a Haaretz inquiry on outposts two year ago. The authority at the time confirmed that several outposts, including those regarded as neighborhoods by the Karnei Shomron council, are located within nature reserves.

In at least one instance, the settlers themselves admit to permanently residing in a nature reserve. A website commissioned by settlers describes the Scali Ranch outpost near Nablus as "built within the reserve in order to protect its wild animals from Arab hunters."

The site further states that "The law does not allow residence in nature reserves, but Scali Ranch has received special ornithologist status and can thus reside within the reserves with some limitations."