Shorts: Mideast

New West Bank settlements planned

jerusalem (jta) | The Israel Lands Administration issued construction offers Sept. 21 for 88 additional housing units in Ariel, 56 for Alfei Menashe and 20 for Karnei Shomron — all West Bank settlements.

The move could upset the United States and European Union given Israel’s obligation under the “road map” peace plan to freeze settlement expansion. The three settlements cited are located in blocs that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said would be annexed to Israel under any future peace deal.

Deputy PM released from custody

nablus, west bank (ap) | Israel released the Palestinian deputy prime minister on Wednesday, Sep. 27. He was the highest-ranking of more than 30 officials in the Hamas-led government jailed as part of a militant crackdown.

Nasser Shaer was ordered freed by an Israeli court, which banned him from going to his government office in the West Bank city of Ramallah for two weeks.

Thirty lawmakers and four Cabinet ministers remain in Israeli custody, charged with belonging to an illegal group. Earlier in the week, a military court in the West Bank declined to release 21 of the detainees on bail. A hearing for 13 others is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 5.

Government asks Israelis abroad to return home

jerusalem ( | The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption launched a new campaign calling on Israelis that have left Israel to return home.

According to the ministry, there are 600,000 Israelis living outside of Israel — 60 percent of them residing in North America, and 25 percent in Europe.

The campaign will encourage participation in career and employment conventions that will take place in North America and expose the Israelis abroad to a range of employment opportunities and plans to make the return as easy as possible.

Olmert’s popularity takes a plunge

jerusalem (jta) | Ehud Olmert was fifth in an Israeli opinion poll on who should be prime minister.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came first in the Yediot Ahronot survey published Sept. 21 with 27 percent of respondents supporting him. He was followed by Avigdor Lieberman, head of the hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu Party, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Vice Premier Shimon Peres.

Olmert’s low ranking, with 7 percent support, reflected dwindling public faith in his government since the Lebanon war.