Freeze lifted on W. Bank apartments

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lifted a freeze on the sale of some 3,000 empty apartments in West Bank settlements.

The previous Labor government had barred the sale of the apartments as part of its general policy of restricting settlement activity.

In August, the Likud-led government approved the expansion of existing settlements, but the apartment sales were held up for technical reasons, settler leaders said.

Netanyahu's decision Sunday was welcomed by settler leaders, who have been critical of the government for pursuing the peace accords with the Palestinians.

Criticism has also come from his own family. Hagi Ben Artzi, Netanyahu's brother-in-law, announced this week that he was moving to the West Bank town of Hebron, where he would try to thwart any government plans to pull Israeli troops out of the West Bank town.

Meanwhile, thousands of Israelis took part in a Peace Now rally Saturday night in Jerusalem, calling on the government to pull the troops out of Hebron, a move that has been delayed since March.

The participants formed a human chain stretching from the center of Jerusalem to the grave of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at Mount Herzl Cemetery.

The demonstrators then attended a rally opposite the Prime Minister's Office.