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Israel reroutes barrier ahead of World Court session
Updated: 2004-02-22 10:25

Israel on Sunday planned to tear down a section of its controversial West Bank barrier that cuts through a Palestinian village, a day before the World Court opens hearings on the legality of the project.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie said on Saturday that the Israeli step did not go far enough, telling reporters: "We will not agree to even one millimeter of the barrier."

Workers will start dismantling a five mile section of the barrier, a fraction of the project, in the West Bank on Sunday, a day before hearings begin in the International Court of Justice in The Hague (news - web sites).

The route of the partially constructed barrier, which snakes deep into the West Bank and plans to extend for 452 mile, has come under international criticism, including from the United States -- Israel's main ally.

Israel says completed sections of the barrier -- a network of razor wire and concrete -- are already stopping Palestinian suicide bombers. Palestinians call it a land grab.

Hundreds of Palestinians marched in West Bank demonstrations on Saturday to protest against the barrier and are planning a "Day of Rage" at the start of the World Court's hearings.

Israeli Defense Ministry Director General Amos Yaron said the timing of the removal of the barrier east of the Palestinian village of Baka al-Sharqiya was unrelated to the court hearings and was planned months in advance.

But Israeli Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said he had urged parties to take the step and acknowledged that Israel could reap public opinion benefits from changing the barrier's route, which cuts off Palestinians from their fields, schools and clinics.

"I've said this before (the hearings) in The Hague, so that the world will know that we do not want to harm (the Palestinians)," he told Israel's Channel 10. "If this is media spin, than it is very positive media spin."

Yaron said original plans had the barrier crossing through an inhabited area of a Palestinian village and would have forced the demolition of 40 Palestinian homes. After almost two years of local lawsuits, the decision was made to scrap the section.

Israeli and Palestinian lobby groups gathered at the court to prepare for their own protests next week, as Dutch police erected lines of barricades around its entrance.

The World Court's ruling is non-binding, but Israel fears the United Nations (news - web sites) General Assembly -- which asked for the advisory opinion and where pro-Palestinian sentiment is strong -- could use the ruling to lobby for sanctions against it.

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