Israel pledges to remove 60 West Bank roadblocks


ISRAEL HAS announced the removal of 60 West Bank roadblocks as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinians to coincide with the indirect proximity talks which resumed earlier this month through US mediation.

According to UN figures there are about 85 checkpoints guarded by Israeli troops with another 400 makeshift barriers, causing significant restrictions on the ability of Palestinians to travel freely throughout the West Bank.

In addition to the removal of some roadblocks, the Israeli package of gestures also includes the opening of two roads previously closed to Palestinian traffic, easing restrictions on travel for Palestinian businessmen, and lifting restrictions on Israeli Arabs travelling in the West Bank.

In addition, restrictions on tourists entering Bethlehem have been eased and 50 permits will be granted for Israeli tour guides to enter the biblical city.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians would wait to see what happens on the ground and then judge. He accused Israel of failing to meet its international commitments.

Bethlehem mayor Victor Batarseh said the measures would provide a boost to the city, which is heavily dependent on tourism.

Despite the resumption of peace negotiations, the atmosphere between the sides remains far from cordial.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that while Israel was making life easier for West Bank residents, the Palestinians had declared “economic war” on Israel.

He told Knesset members from his ruling Likud faction yesterday that the Palestinian campaign to block Israel’s entry into the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Palestinian boycott of goods manufactured in Jewish settlements was unacceptable. “Israel is aiming for peace and economic prosperity,” Mr Netanyahu said. “The Palestinians must decide if they are aiming for peace or not.”

Separately, the trial of Anat Kam, the Israeli soldier who leaked secret army documents to an Israeli journalist, got under way at Tel Aviv district court yesterday. Ms Kam is accused of copying some 2,000 classified documents, including top-secret information, during her military service at the army’s central command headquarters. If found guilty of harming state security, she could face a life sentence.

Her lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, said his client had not responded to the charges. “She was promised that no trial would be held against her if she presented all of the material to investigators,” he said. “This promise was breached.”