Israel starts moving section of West Bank wall

 

Israeli workers have started removing a section of the West Bank separation barrier, a day before the world court begins a hearing on the legality of the structure.

The move appears aimed at softening international criticism ahead of the legal proceedings, though Israel's foreign minister said the timing was purely coincidental.

Two Palestinian men stand beside the huge Israeli wall in the West Bank
Two Palestinian men stand beside the huge Israeli wall in the West Bank

Workers started taking down a stretch of the barrier - around five miles of fencing, razor wire and trenches - that has isolated the Palestinian town of Baka al-Sharkia from the rest of the West Bank for more than a year.

That section of fence is to be removed now that workers have completed a series of concrete walls and fences separating the town's western side from Israel, said Defence Ministry spokeswoman Rachel Niedak-Ashkenazi.

A gate will allow passage to a "sister" town, Baka al-Gharbia, just inside the boundary with Israel.

Foreign minister Mr Silvan Shalom said there was no connection between the decision to move this stretch of the fence and the hearing at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands.

"It is coincidental, maybe it is not the best timing," Mr Shalom told Israel Radio.

Israel has come under increasing pressure - even domestic legal challenges - to reroute the barrier, which dips deep into the West Bank in places.

But Mr Shalom said that the international community would not be satisfied unless Israel moved the entire barrier to the 1967 borders and that would not happen.

"We will not build the fence along the 1967 border because then it will become a political fence and not a security fence," he said, adding that there has been a steep drop in attacks in places where the fence has been built.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia has dismissed Israel's route adjustment and said all parts of the barrier built on West Bank land must be removed. "We do not approve of even 1 millimetre of this wall that falls on our land," he said.