Aerial Photos Show Extensive Building in Settlements

The Defense Ministry has completed an extensive aerial photography operation detailing the location and expansion of each settlement and outpost in the West Bank.

The Defense Ministry has completed an extensive aerial photography operation detailing the location and expansion of each settlement and outpost in the West Bank. The photography of the settlements involved two separate operations, one in the summer of 2004 and the other in early 2005, and was carried out by Nesher, a private company, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of shekels.

A comparison of the two sets of photographs revealed there has been extensive building in recent months. The ministry is planning more aerial photograph operations to monitor if and where further construction takes place.

The operation was carried out on orders from the Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz following a complaint by attorney Talia Sasson, author of a report on the illegal outposts, that aerial photographs of the West Bank settlements had not been done since 2000.

In another development, the head of the Southern Command, Major General Dan Harel, signed an order on Thursday night banning Israeli citizens from registering their address at the Interior Ministry as in the Gaza Strip in an effort to bypass a "restricted military zone" order that will be imposed on the area in May, ahead of the disengagement.

The decision to hire the services of a private contractor stemmed from the inability of the Air Force to carry out color aerial photography, and black and white photographs would have provided insufficient detail on the development in the settlements during the period in question.

The results of the two operations have been evaluated by experts, former IDF personnel specializing in the interpretation of aerial photographs.

While Sasson did not have in her possession detailed photographs of the expansion of settlements when writing her report on illegal outposts, what is now available are detailed folders of color aerial shots of every settlement and outpost. The photographs include coverage of the large settlements, such as Ma'aleh Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion.

Israel had pledged to then-U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, in a letter on April 14, 2004, that a joint group of Israeli and American experts would meet to determine the maximum extent to which settlements could grow, using aerial photographs. This joint effort ended when Israel refused to discuss similar limits in the large settlement blocs.

The problem does not seem to stem from the absence of the necessary photographic data but from a fundamental opposition to deciding the limits of the large settlements.

In preparations for the disengagement from the Gaza Strip the IDF is readying to begin the removal of "non-essential" equipment from its positions in the area.

This decision follows an order by Major General Harel, banning Israelis from registering as residents of the Gaza Strip, something that more than 500 Israelis have already done in the past six months.

Despite an Israel Defense Forces decree barring Israelis from relocating to the Gaza Strip, MK Effi Eitam (National Religious Party) and his family announced yesterday that they would be moving from the Golan Heights to the Gush Katif settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip.

Eitam and his family requested last week that the Interior Ministry approve the change of address.

At the beginning of May, after Passover, the IDF plans to declare the Gaza Strip a closed military zone. The army will then be able to prevent people who do not have proof of residence in the Strip from entering it. The move is meant to prevent right-wing activists from entering the area to prevent the evacuation of settlements.

Faced with applicants presenting fake leases as proof of their new address, the Interior Ministry recently decided to deal with such requests more rigorously. In addition to their lease, applicants must now present other proof that they are changing their place of residence, such as utility bills or school registration forms.

A similar ban is being considered for the four settlements slated for evacuation in the northern West Bank, IDF sources said.

The IDF will begin withdrawing supplies from the Gaza Strip within two weeks. These will include mostly equipment having to do with logistics, such as food storage facilities and unmanned caravans.

In the meantime, the IDF has established a headquarters for a third division that will be deployed for the evacuation of the Gaza Strip in a shortened timetable.

Last week a decision was taken to deploy a third division, in this case an armored reserve division, to evacuate settlements and provide security during the operation.