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Page last updated at 13:57 GMT, Monday, 22 December 2008

West Bank crossings trade warning

Honey seller, Jenin
Palestinian farmers and businesses say access to markets is a major problem

The Palestinian West Bank economy will not prosper unless Israel speeds passage at goods crossings and eases restrictions, the World Bank has said.

It highlighted obstacles faced by West Bank Palestinians trying to export goods to Israel and overseas.

These include a network of checkpoints and the transfer system for crossing the newly-built West Bank barrier.

Israel says the measures are necessary for security, and it is easing movement as much as it can.

The World Bank report pointed to the recently imposed "back-to-back" system, under which goods crossing the West Bank barrier must be transferred into different trucks, to allow for stringent security checks.

Businesses say this increases transit times, costs and uncertainty.

Israel says it aims to reduce times passing through the terminals to 30-60 minutes.

But the World Bank said the average time is currently twice that, and the terminals are not yet handling all the traffic they eventually will.

"As long as the internal barriers exist, and imports and exports are forced to go through a system of back-to-back transfer, the Palestinian private sector is unlikely to prosper," the World Bank report said.

Some improvements

Israel says obstacles to movement - which range from manned checkpoints to earthmounds - across the West Bank, are necessary to prevent attacks on Israelis.

It says it is removing them as fast as the security situation allows.

International agencies have noted improvements in movement in some areas in the West Bank, but say restrictions and closures remain a major constraint on economic growth.

The World Bank also called for improved passage through the Allenby Bridge crossings into Jordan.

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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