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Saturday, February 21, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Israel will remove section of wall
By Ramit Plushnick-Masti
Three days before world-court hearings on the legality of the partition, the announcement of the removal of the 6-mile section appeared intended to help defuse criticism over the route of the barrier, which at times veers several miles into the West Bank and disrupts the lives of thousands of Palestinians.
Tomorrow, workers will begin to remove the section that cuts off the town of Baka al-Sharkia from the rest of the West Bank, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another barrier, west of the town, will remain, and Israel will open a gate to allow passage to a "sister" town, Baka al-Gharbia, which is in Israel, the official said.
The International Court of Justice, in The Hague, Netherlands, begins hearings Monday. Israel has come under growing pressure including domestic legal challenges to reroute the barrier and reduce hardship for Palestinians.
The security official said state attorney Edna Arbel has rejected portions of the route she thinks cannot be defended in court. She also has ordered changes in the section already built and in the planned route.
Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, confirmed that the state attorney has become the final arbiter but would not discuss the changes she ordered.
"If changes need to be made, they are made based on her opinion, on whether it will stand up in court," Gissin said.
He said Israel is looking for "creative" ways to solve problems caused to the Palestinian population by the barrier.
In at least one case, the Defense Ministry is trying to arrange school buses for Palestinian children having difficulty getting to and from school, the security official said.
Israel began building its West Bank separation barrier more than a year ago, arguing it is needed to stop suicide bombers and other attackers from reaching Israeli towns and villages. The barrier is to run as long as 450 miles and is about one-third built.
Sharon has said he will speed up construction of the barrier as part of his so-called disengagement plan, which could include the removal of some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel's vice premier, Ehud Olmert, Sharon's top deputy, said yesterday that Israel would remove Jewish settlements in the West Bank "wherever possible" but leave major communities in place. His comments indicated that the pullback could be on a larger scale than the prime minister initially indicated.
Sharon has said he will remove 17 of 21 Gaza Strip settlements as part of his plan if the sides fail to make progress on the U.S.-backed road map to peace. About 7,500 Israelis live in the Gaza Strip, and another 230,000 are scattered in the West Bank.
"What is clear is that we will evacuate: in a process of disengagement that will widen, not only along the Gaza Strip, obviously, but will also expand into the West Bank wherever possible," Olmert told Israel Radio.
Olmert said "major (West Bank) settlement blocs have to stay under our control."
"The Americans understand this ... the argument is over all those areas where the Jewish settlements are mixed in with the Palestinian population in a way that causes confrontation and damage to both sides," he added.
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