Israeli extremists spark Arab protest

ISRAELI police yesterday clashed with protesters in an Arab town in northern Israel before a march by Jewish extremists.

Hundreds of police were drafted into Umm el-Fahm after Israel's Supreme Court gave permission for the ultra-nationalist Jewish activists to march through the town. The extremists are admirers of Meir Kahane, a US-born rabbi who preached that Palestinians should be expelled from Israel and the West Bank.

About 350 Israeli Arabs had gathered along the scheduled march route. Some mistakenly thought the rally had begun and started throwing rocks at police.

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Police dispersed the crowd with tear gas and stun grenades. Several people were arrested, though no serious injuries had been reported last night.

Meanwhile work has begun on as many as 600 new homes in West Bank settlements since Israel lifted its curb on such construction.

Foundations are already being dug for at least 350 apartments, while construction of another 200 to 250 homes is in more preliminary stages, an official said.

A second settler official said he believed some of the construction was more advanced as between 400 and 500 apartments already had foundations.

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Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to release figures on the delicate topic that has stalled US-led peace talks.

Assessing the extent of post-freeze construction is difficult because Israel's government has declined to release information and settlement officials generally do not provide detailed data.

The long-standing Peace Now movement, which is conducting an extensive survey of building activity, has reported that work has begun on at least 600 homes since restrictions, which Israel imposed in November 2009 for 10 months, were lifted on September 26.