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Spain contest bans Israeli team affiliated with West Bank college  

By The Associated Press  

Spain said Thursday it has disqualified a group of Israeli academics from a solar power design competition because their university is in the West Bank, the latest in a series of low-level European sanctions against Israel over its settlement policy.

Spain expelled the team representing Ariel University Center of Samaria from an international contest called the Solar Decathlon, in which 20 universities are presenting designs for solar-powered homes, a Housing Ministry official said.

Samaria and Judea are the two Biblical names for the land also now known as the West Bank.

"Spain acted in line with European Union policy of opposing Israel's occupation of Palestinian land," the Spanish official said on condition of anonymity, in line with ministry rules.

The Israeli university said it "rejects with disgust the one-sided announcement we received from the Spanish Housing Ministry and that the anti-academic decisions harms 10,000 students, including 500 Arab students who study there."

"The decision is an expression of the illegitimate political struggle which contravenes international law and international charters on academic freedom," it said in a statement sent Thursday to The Associated Press.

The contest is sponsored by the U.S. Energy Department, but Spain is hosting and financing a European version of it in 2010 and 2012 and has ultimate say over such details as who takes part, the ministry official said.

The Israelis were notified of the decision on September 11, and the U.S. Energy Department was also advised. The Spanish Housing Ministry did not hear back from the Americans, the official said.

Late last year, the Israelis' proposal made the final cut of 20 universities chosen to take part in the contest after a technical evaluation of their project. But at some point this year, the Spanish Housing Ministry realized their university is not in Israel but rather in the West Bank, the official said. He could not explain why this fact was initially overlooked.

The European Union has adopted a more critical attitude toward Israel since the Israel Defense Force's 22-day offensive in Gaza last January. The refusal of Israel's new right-wing government to heed demands for a complete settlement freeze has further strained ties.

Britain recently revoked several licenses granted to U.K. companies to sell weapons parts to Israel because of concerns over their use in the assault on Gaza. But the move was largely symbolic, as Britain supplies less than 1 percent of Israel's military imports.

Norway decided to sell its shares in Elbit Systems Ltd., an Israeli company that provides surveillance equipment for the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank, leading Israel to lodge a formal diplomatic complaint.