In a pre-campaign promise, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, front-runner in Israel's March 28 election, pledged to keep the Jewish settlement of Ariel in Samaria. The announcement seemed aimed at appeasing settlers alarmed by his plans to withdraw from several settlements over the next four years. Olmert reassured the 17,000 residents of Ariel, the third largest Israeli settlement, that they and smaller neighboring settlements will eventually become part of Israel. “The Ariel bloc will be an integral part of Israel, whatever happens,” Olmert said. “Ariel is Israel.” His latest declaration was at odds with US policy, which has blocked plans to include Ariel on the Israeli side of Israel's security fence. Palestinians said annexation of Ariel to Israel would dash their hopes of establishing a viable state. Ariel is located 10 miles inside Palestinian territory, deeper than any other large settlement bloc.
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