Israel rerouting West Bank barrier closer to boundary

By Mark Heinrich JERUSALEM, Reuters

Israel will reroute its West Bank barrier closer to its boundary with the occupied territory under a court order that Palestinians must not be cut off from their lands, the project’s administrator said on Thursday.

It was the first confirmation of leaks from security sources that the barrier, which the World Court and U.N. General Assembly have branded illegal and said should be dismantled, would in future run nearer to the “Green Line” frontier.

Senior political sources said the route revisions made by Defense Ministry planners would be presented to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon next week for final approval.

Israel bills the barrier as its bulwark against infiltrating suicide bombers. But previously planned or built sections snake well inside the West Bank to encompass large Jewish settlements Israel vows not to cede under any peace deal with Palestinians.

Palestinians condemn the network of razor-tipped fencing and concrete walls as a precursor to Israel annexing land it took in the 1967 Middle East war. They say this would deny them a viable state promised them by a U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan.

In a precedent-setting decision on a Palestinian appeal last month, Israel’s High Court ordered a 30-km (18-mile) section moved to ease hardship on Palestinians. But it also said Israel may erect a “security” barrier on land it considers “disputed”.

“In the framework of the changes spurred by the High Court ruling, when the new maps are published they will show movement toward the Green Line, although not right on the Green Line,” Netzah Mashiah, director of the Defense Ministry’s barrier administration, said on Israel Radio.

With the “road map” process stalled by persistent violence, Sharon aims to “disengage” Israel from the Palestinians by evacuating all 8,000 settlers from occupied Gaza next year and a few hundred among the 230,000 in the much larger West Bank.

Sharon is bent on smashing Palestinian militant groups in the meantime to prevent them claiming victory in a settler exodus. On Thursday, missiles killed two Palestinians in their car in Israel’s latest air strike on wanted Gaza militants.