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Defense Minister Ehud Barak has approved dozens of construction projects in the West Bank in recent months, contradicting Israel's commitments to the Road Map, Haaretz has learned. Barak also approved the marketing of hundreds of housing units in settlements.

Some of the permits for construction projects were granted in settlements to the east of the separation fence, which are beyond the areas the state defines as "settlement blocks" and it expects to retain under Israel's control following a permanent agreement with the Palestinians.

By press time, the Defense Ministry had not responded to Haaretz's query on the matter.

The Road Map, an American initiative put in place in 2003, calls on Israel to avoid any expansion of settlements, except for construction necessitated by the needs of natural population growth. The construction permits appear to contravene Israel's obligations.

Construction in the settlements is a permanent matter of dispute in talks for a permanent settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and has drawn strong criticism from both the U.S. and the European Union.

At a March press conference with P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the U.S. continues to insist that Israel ceases settlement expansion. Rice stressed that such construction contravenes the Road Map.

In January Barak asked that all construction projects in the West Bank be brought to him for authorization. Data received by Haaretz suggests that since April, Barak has authorized the following construction projects in the West Bank:

* The marketing of at least 400 housing units and plots, of which 315 homes and 32 plots are in Beitar Ilit, 48 homes and 19 plots in Ariel, and 40 housing units and and a commercial center at Efrat.

* The construction of some 60 homes in a neighborhood that is several kilometers away from its mother settlement of Eshkolot, in southern Mount Hebron, but is included in its municipal jurisdiction.

* The registration and publication of construction projects in Ariel, Modi'in Ilit, Ma'aleh Adumim, Mevo Horon, Oranit, Efrat, Givat Ze'ev, Beit El, Neveh Daniel, Alon Shvut, Har Adar, Kochav Ya'akov and Talmon. The two latter settlements are situated to the east of the separation fence.

* Mekorot, the Israeli water company, was given permission to prepare plans in Kiryat Arba, which is also situated east of the fence.

* Authorization to plan "an experimental electricity production farm" in southern Mount Hebron.

* Renewal of authorization for the marketing of 31 homes and commercial properties in Beitar Ilit.

* The planning of a cemetery in the area of Ma'aleh Adumim.

* The allocation of 4.6 dunams (just over one acre) for the development of a nature reserve in the Prat stream in Wadi Kelt, which is east of the fence.

* The allotment of plots for the construction of public buildings in the neighborhood of Matityahu-East in Modi'in Ilit (which has been partially built on lands of the Palestinian village of Bil'in). Similar allotments were made in Elkana, Kfar Oranim, Kedumim and Beit Aryeh.