Thu, Nov 13, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Israel's wall to cut up West Bank

NEW BERLIN WALL?The controversial security fence will place 14.5 percent of West Bank land on the Israeli's side, causing great distress to Palestinians, a UN report says


The route for Israel's planned boundary barrier would put nearly 15 percent of West Bank land on the Israeli side and disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, according to a UN report on Tuesday.

The report is based on calculations made after Israel presented its first detailed map of the barrier last month. Israeli officials questioned the accuracy of the report, by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and said the government was still assessing how many Palestinians would be affected.

"We think the UN is toying with the numbers," said Rachel Niedak-Ashkenazi, a spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Ministry, which is responsible for the project. "We do have one number: The 6.5 million Israelis will be better protected when the fence is finished."

The barrier, which includes an electronic fence, concrete walls, trenches and other obstacles, is intended to block Palestinian attackers and is not a political border, Israel insists. It veers into the West Bank to protect Jewish settlements, Israel says.

But Palestinians say the path amounts to confiscation of land and sets a de facto boundary that would make it difficult to establish a viable Palestinian state.

The UN agency said the map released by Israel showed the barrier running more than 644km on a twisting route through the West Bank.

The barrier will totally surround 12 Palestinian communities, leaving residents able to leave only through gates controlled by Israeli security forces, the report said.

Only 11 percent of the barrier is to be built along the Green Line, the armistice line set at the end of the 1948-1949 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

The fence will put 14.5 percent of West Bank land on the Israeli side, the report said, adding, "This land, some of the most fertile in the West Bank, is currently the home for more than 274,000 Palestinians."

The agency made a rough estimate that an additional 400,000 Palestinians would be adversely affected. In some instances, the barrier is going up between Palestinian villages and nearby farmland. In many small Palestinian communities, employees and students must cross the barrier to reach larger cities and towns where they work or study.

David Shearer, head of the UN agency in Jerusalem, said the report was not intended "to make any sort of political point."

"We simply wanted to highlight the severe problems these people would face," he said.

Israel has acknowledged that tens of thousands of Palestinians will be affected, but says it is building gates and taking other steps to minimize disruptions. "To say that we are not taking humanitarian issues into account is misleading," Niedak-Ashkenazi said.

About one-quarter of the barrier has been built, mostly in the northern West Bank and near Jerusalem.

"I believe the wall is a profound disaster that's engulfing the Palestinian people," said Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian minister in charge of negotiations with Israel. "As the wall goes up, the vision of a two-state solution is being destroyed."

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