Israel began repositioning part of its illegal barrier in the occupied West Bank Sunday, four years after a court ruled it should be re-routed to give Palestinians greater access to farmland.
Israeli tractors tore down a section of the barrier, a metal fence, as a clutch of journalists watched. A new concrete barrier has been erected some 600 meters from the old route near the Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit.
The Israeli military tore down a watchtower overlooking Bilin Wednesday and protesters rammed a bulldozer into the fence Friday.
The section covered by the ruling is in Bilin, a Palestinian village about 25 km east of Tel Aviv, and the scene of often violent weekly protests against a barrier Israel calls a security necessity and Palestinians say is a land grab.
The Israeli courts ruled in 2007 that the fence had to be moved after a petition from Bilin landowners two years previously. This prompted a to-and-fro with Israel’s Defense Ministry until a final re-routing plan was accepted.
Colonel Saar Tzur, commander of an Israeli military brigade in the region, said moving the barrier would give Palestinians access to about 140 acres of farmland, though they still remain cut off from a further 50 acres of land.
Mohammad al-Khteeb, coordinator for Bilin’s Popular Resistance movement, said the move was good, but not enough. “It makes me happy but still we are far away from what we are looking for and what we want to achieve, because the largest part of the village lands are still confiscated by the new route,” he said.
Israel started building the network of metal fencing, barbed wire and concrete walls in 2002 following a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.
The World Court in The Hague said in 2004 that the proposed 720-km barrier cutting through the West Bank was illegal, as its route is inside territory that Israeli forces occupied in a 1967 war.
Tzur said the total cost of the re-routing came to 31 million NIS (about $9 million), including Israel’s replanting of Palestinian-owned olive trees to prevent them from being damaged by the work.
I will go to Gaza: Abbas
RAMALLAH, Occupied West Bank: Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said Sunday he was still determined to go to the Gaza Strip, despite hitches in reconciliation talks with Hamas.
“For a long time I said I would go to Gaza, and now I say I am still determined to go to Gaza and it will be a surprise for all,” Abbas told a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization and his Fatah party.
Earlier in the day Abbas said that with no renewal of peace talks on the horizon, the Palestinians would pursue their unilateral bid for recognition at the U.N. in September.
“I say that if negotiations have failed we will go to the United Nations for membership,” Abbas told a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization and his Fatah party.
“Until now there have been no new incentives to return to negotiations,” he said.
Peace talks ground to a halt in September 2010 after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to implement a partial freeze on settlements in the occupied West Bank.
By Maayan Lubell