Wed, Sep 05, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Palestinians win Israeli court ruling over barrier

AP , BILIN, WEST BANK

Israeli armored vehicles advance along the northern section of the Gaza Strip-Israel demarcation line on Monday.

PHOTO: AFP

In an embarrassing blow to Israel, the Supreme Court yesterday ordered the state to redraw the route of its West Bank separation barrier near a Palestinian village that has come to symbolize opposition to the enclosure.

Meanwhile, pressure mounted on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to strike hard in Gaza after a rocket struck near a nursery school, and scenes of screaming children and terrified parents were broadcast nationwide.

Vice Premier Haim Ramon, an Olmert confidant, yesterday proposed cutting off electricity, fuel and water to the coastal strip.

Residents of the village of Bilin went to court arguing that the current route kept them from reaching their fields and orchards.

Villagers and their Israeli and foreign supporters have protested at the barrier every Friday for the past two-and-a-half years, routinely sparring with police in clashes that have wounded dozens.

The Israeli government argued that the route was necessary to protect residents of the nearby settlement of Modiin Illit, and completed the section near Bilin.

JUDGES' RULING

A three-judge Supreme Court panel unanimously rejected the government's argument yesterday, ordering defense planners to change the barrier's route to cause less harm to village residents.

"We were not convinced that it is necessary for security-military reasons to retain the current route that passes on Bilin's lands," Chief Justice Dorit Beinish wrote.

The judges ordered the government to come up with a new route in a "reasonable period of time."

This is not the first time Israel's Supreme Court has ordered authorities to move the fence.

"We went to court, hired the best lawyers in Israel and we won," said Abdullah Abu Rahma, one of the leaders of the weekly protest.

He vowed that villagers would keep fighting until the fence was moved entirely off Bilin's land.

Elated villagers poured out of homes and schools and headed toward the fence, where several army jeeps gathered as the crowd began to swell.

"They demolished the Berlin wall, we want to demolish the Bilin wall," they chanted.

MILITARY RESPONSE

The Israeli Defense Ministry, which has overseen construction of the barrier, said in a statement that it would "study the ruling and respect it."

Israel began building the barrier -- a combination of concrete walls, fences, trenches and patrol roads -- along the West Bank in 2002, saying it was a necessary weapon in its war against Palestinian suicide bombers.

In the West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced militant rocket attacks on southern Israel from Gaza, where Islamic Hamas militants are in control.

"We condemn the launching of rockets from Gaza and other places because these actions harm peace and the peace process," he said at a news conference.

In Israel, Ramon said severing water, fuel and electrical supplies to Gaza would force Hamas to stop the daily rocket fire.

"We won't continue to supply oxygen [to Gaza] in the form of electricity, fuel and water when they are trying to kill our children," he told Army Radio.

While Ramon is close to Olmert, government spokesman David Baker said the vice premier was voicing his own opinion.

ROCKET ATTACKS

Olmert said on Monday that he instructed the army "to destroy every Qassam rocket launcher and anyone who is involved in their launching." He is to convene his security Cabinet today to discuss a response to the attacks.

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