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Israel Finalizes Route of Barrier

Wall around Jerusalem will include large areas that Palestinians claim. Meanwhile, hand-over of West Bank towns is set to begin this week.

March 15, 2005|From Associated Press

JERUSALEM — The final route of Israel's barrier around Jerusalem will encompass large areas claimed by the Palestinians, including their intended capital and the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Israeli officials confirmed Monday.

The route will also place a Jewish holy site in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on the Israeli side of the barrier, while leaving a Palestinian refugee camp in Jerusalem encircled by a separate fence, the officials said.

Late Monday, Israeli and Palestinian Cabinet ministers agreed again on a hand-over of the West Bank town of Jericho to Palestinian security.

Earlier agreements fell through over details about roadblocks.

Israeli officials said the hand-over was set for Wednesday, to be followed a few days later by Tulkarm, then Kalkilya. Bethlehem and Ramallah are to be transferred to Palestinian control as well, but those were not agreed on at the meeting between Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yousef and Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was optimistic about efforts to get peace talks back on track, saying that "the positive developments here give us a chance to re-energize the process."

Annan spoke after meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Palestinian militants were to begin talks today in Cairo on formalizing an unofficial cease-fire.

Israel began building the barrier in and around the West Bank two years ago, saying it was needed to keep out Palestinian attackers.

Palestinians say the structure is an attempt by Israel to impose a border without waiting for a peace deal.

The Palestinians hope to establish their capital in East Jerusalem, a traditional Arab commercial, religious and social center. Israel, which captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, claims the entire city as its capital.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened a meeting of senior Cabinet ministers late Sunday to discuss the route of the barrier, which received the Cabinet's approval last month.

Under the plan, the settlement of Maale Adumim, five miles east of Jerusalem, will be on the Israeli side of the barrier, officials said. About 30,000 Israelis live in Maale Adumim, the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

A senior Israeli official said the committee was planning 11 crossings to allow access from the West Bank.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that construction was to be completed by year's end and that no major changes in the route are expected. A number of legal challenges filed by Palestinian villagers are pending in Israeli courts.

The U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution against the barrier last year and the International Court of Justice in The Hague said the barrier was illegal and must be torn down.

Annan also said the United Nations was establishing a register of damages to Palestinian property and claims against Israel resulting from the barrier's construction.

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