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Israel to re-route W.Bank barrier on court orders
Updated: 2004-06-30 21:51

Israel said Wednesday it would re-route part of its disputed West Bank barrier after its highest court ordered changes to prevent Palestinians being cut off from their farms, schools and cities.

A three-judge panel said its unanimous thumbs-down to a planned 30-km (18-mile) segment of the barrier would set guidelines for hearings on more than 20 Palestinian petitions against sections of the network of fences and walls.

Palestinian children play ball at the site where Israel started building several months ago its separation barrier in the outskirts of the West Bank village of Biddu, north of Jerusalem, Wednesday June 30, 2004. [AP]

In response, the Defense Ministry said it would shift sections of the barrier based on the High Court finding that Israel's need for security did not allow it to give short shrift to the rights of the nearby Palestinian population.

"The replanning of these sections will be based on the principles set by the High Court, namely the proper balance between security and humanitarian considerations," the ministry said in a statement.

It noted that the court said Israel had a right to build a barrier on requisitioned land for security reasons.

Palestinians call the barrier a disguised bid to annex occupied territory they want for a future state since it often snakes well into the West Bank to take in Jewish settlements Israel's government vows never to yield under any peace deal.

Israel says the barrier, 200 km (125 miles) of which have been built, aims to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers who have infiltrated Israeli cities and killed hundreds of people.

A section of the barrier separating the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem from the West Bank town of Abu Dis (rear) is seen on June 25. [AFP]

In 10 days the International Court of Justice in The Hague is expected to issue an advisory ruling on the barrier's legality as requested by the United Nations.

"This is a courageous and very important (High Court) ruling," said Mohammed Dahleh, lawyer for petitioning villages.

"This decision is more important than the one at The Hague because this one will be followed... It says that the wall as it is being built is illegal and there is another way to build it that will give security to Israel but won't violate Palestinian rights," he told reporters at the court.


He said the decision would redeem around 5,200 hectares (12,000 acres) of Palestinian land, half of it cultivated, cited in various petitions against zigzagging portions of the barrier that have trapped West Bank villagers in enclaves.

Their access to farms, markets, hospitals and other public services has been blocked or severely restricted as a result.

The court said the 30-km stretch near Jerusalem would separate thousands of farmers from olive and citrus groves and it canceled land-confiscation orders issued for the region.

"The current path would burden the entire way of life in traditional villages," it said.

"The military commander must consider alternatives that do exist... Even if they result in a lower level of security, they should bring a substantial -- even if not complete -- reduction in the damage to the lives of the local inhabitants."

Israel's government argued to the court that the barrier, expected to extend more than 600 km (370 miles), must be built well into the West Bank in some places rather than along the boundary to provide a security buffer.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie said the barrier should be removed altogether, calling it "an act of aggression."

The Defense Ministry said it would keep building the barrier as it had "already proven its worthiness in saving lives."

The Palestinian villagers' test case was joined by 30 Israelis from the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion.

They agreed the barrier should be shifted to unused scrub hillside closer to the boundary, fearing the villagers with whom they have long enjoyed good neighborly relations would otherwise be driven by desperation into violence.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intends to evacuate by the end of 2005 a string of smaller settlements in the Gaza Strip, another territory Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

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