Page last updated at 20:58 GMT, Monday, 15 December 2008

Israel told to re-route barrier

A protestor runs from an Israeli tear gas grenade in Bilin on 12/12/2008
There are frequent protests against the barrier in Bilin, near Ramallah

The Israeli High Court has rejected part of the planned route of Israel's West Bank barrier.

It ordered the government to re-route the barrier, saying it encroached too much on Palestinian land in Bilin, separating farmers from their fields.

Israel says the barrier is designed to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers, but Palestinians call it a land grab.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed the ruling, but said much more remained to be done.

"It just solves one problem. How many hundreds of other problems do we have in the West Bank?" he said.

Mr Erekat said Israel's continued expansion of the barrier and Jewish settlements were "obstacles to peace" and he called on Israel to halt construction.

There was no immediate response from Israeli officials.

Bilin's Mayor Ahmed Yasin petitioned the Israeli High Court in 2005 in an attempt to prevent the Israeli government from confiscating land from the village.

The barrier cuts some 3km (2 miles) into farmers' fields.

Bilin has lost half its land, or 500 acres, to the barrier and the Modiin Illit settlement, which like all settlements, is considered illegal under international law, although Israel rejects this.

Unprecedented ruling

In its eight-page ruling, the three-judge panel called on the government to comply with the order "without any further delays".

The court had previously asked the government to re-route the barrier in Bilin, near the city of Ramallah, prompting Israel to submit new blueprints, which were later rejected.

Israel's separation barrier at the Kalandia checkpoint

"Security considerations that will shape the new route must only take into account houses that have already been built, and not plans for future construction," the decision said.

This was in reference to arguments by state planners that a security "buffer zone" between settlements and the barrier was necessary.

Lawyer Michael Sfard, who represented the people of Bilin in the case, said the decision was unprecedented in its detail and would help others challenging the barrier's route.

Israel began building the West Bank barrier in 2002. It is now two-thirds complete.

It has been widely criticised internationally for looping into Palestinian areas around Israeli settlements, rather than following the Green Line, which marks the boundary that separates Israel from the West Bank.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the barrier is illegal where it cuts into the West Bank and called for it to be pulled down.

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