Fri, Oct 21, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Israel mulls segregating traffic


Israel is weighing a plan to bar Palestinians from the main roads in the West Bank to protect Israeli motorists from roadside shootings, Israeli officials said on Wednesday.

Palestinians denounced the proposal as segregation in the West Bank, the territory the Palestinians are seeking as part of a future state. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said it would be "the official introduction of an apartheid system."

A senior Israeli official, who asked not to be named because a number of options are still under consideration, said:

"We think it is necessary to separate traffic on the roads, not all the roads, but the main roads, where Israelis are most vulnerable. It doesn't call for complete separation everywhere, and we see this as sort of a stopgap measure."

The developments came as the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, prepared to meet President George W. Bush in Washington yesterday. Abbas is pushing for a resumption of full-scale peace negotiations, while Israel is demanding that Abbas first crack down on armed Palestinian groups.

The Bush administration says Israel has a right to defend its citizens, but is also urging Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government to ease the restrictions placed on Palestinians.

In response to a Palestinian shooting on Sunday that killed three young Israelis, the Israeli military currently bars private Palestinian vehicles from traveling on two large stretches of Route 60, the main north-south road in the West Bank. The road links the largest Palestinian cities and is also heavily used by Jewish settlers.

Throughout the past five years of fighting, Israel's security forces have set up scores of checkpoints and roadblocks that have limited or prohibited Palestinian movement on the West Bank road network.

In many places, the military has placed concrete blocks, built earthen mounds and dug trenches to prevent Palestinian village roads from connecting to the main roads.

"Most of the traffic is already separated," said Dror Etkes, an official with Peace Now, an Israeli group that monitors settlements. "There aren't a lot of places left where Israelis and Palestinians are driving on the same roads."

Israel eased some travel restrictions after a February truce that has reduced but not halted the violence.

The Israeli plan now under consideration was first reported on Wednesday in the Israeli newspaper Maariv, which described it as a more formal -- and perhaps permanent -- separation of Israeli and Palestinian traffic in the West Bank.

The newspaper said it could involve building new roads that would be used only by one side or the other, and was part of a larger proposal to completely separate the two sides.

In recent years, Israel has built numerous bypass roads specifically designed to connect large West Bank settlements to Israel.

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