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A plan to establish an industrial zone in an area west of Jerusalem, part of which is designated a national park, is being advanced by the Mevasseret Zion council and the Interior Ministry - despite the opposition of green groups and the Jerusalem municipality.

Environmental organizations claim that in recent months the ministry's planning authority has tried to revive an aborted 2007 plan to establish thousands of housing units in the Har Harat area west of Jerusalem. Two months ago, shortly before the final approval of the Jerusalem district zoning plan, a last-minute change was inserted: a planning approval stamp for the Lavan ridge was removed and in its place a stamp was given to the adjacent Har Harat area, designating it as an industrial zone to be operated jointly by Jerusalem and other communities in the region.

The change in the planning designation came in response to a request by Mevasseret Zion council mayor Arye Shamam, who claimed that his preference was coordinated with the Jerusalem municipality. Yet Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat ranks among opponents of plans to expand and develop the city westward.

The Jerusalem municipality and Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel officials claim that the industrial zone plan is the first step in a systematic attempt to revive the 2007 plan which had been aborted. By approving the industrial zone designation on the city plan moments before it was finalized, the Mevasseret Zion council and the Interior Ministry carried out an eleventh hour ruse, these critics charge. "We are currently working on a report that deals with positive developments in Jerusalem as a result of the cancellation of the 2007 plan," says Barkat's deputy mayor, Naomi Tzur.

Critical report

A report compiled by Pazit Schweid, until recently SPNI's Jerusalem area director, argues that there is no shortage of industrial zone and employment area space in Jerusalem and in adjacent local council areas. The report points to the danger posed to wildlife in the Har Harat area as a result of the industrial zone plan.

Mevasseret Zion Mayor Shamam says the plan does not envision the establishment of an industrial zone on the entire Har Harat area, but only in the area of an existing quarry. He contends that Barkat's opposition is motivated by his desire to strengthen Jewish residence in areas beyond the Green Line, including Mishor Adumim and Atarot.

The Interior Ministry responds that its "national council held a discussion of the Jerusalem zoning plan, including Har Harat. Data presented to the council indicate that the old quarry is not suited to tourism, and that it is well suited for designation as an industrial zone, in compliance with requests made by local council heads.

The ministry council believes that there is a lack of employment venues in the Jerusalem area, and that this plan will augment the income of local councils in the region."

On Thursday, the plan will be discussed by the board of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.