Israel seizes land for barrier to connect largest West Bank settlement to Jerusalem
JERUSALEM – Israel has issued orders to seize Palestinian land to build its separation barrier along a route that would effectively annex the West Bank’s largest Jewish settlement to Jerusalem, the Justice Ministry said Wednesday, a day after Israel completed its historic evacuation of 25 settlements in Gaza and the West Bank.The announcement came on a day that saw a surge in violence after a lull during Israel’s withdrawal from the settlements.In Jerusalem, a Palestinian stabbed two young ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Old City, police said, calling it a terror attack. One of the victims later died of his wounds. The assailant escaped.Late Wednesday, at least two Palestinians were killed in an exchange of fire after Israeli troops entered a West Bank refugee camp, residents said. There were unconfirmed reports of five dead.Witnesses said Israeli forces entered the Tulkarem refugee camp in the northern West Bank and surrounded a house. After soldiers exchanged fire with gunmen in the house, Israeli jeeps entered the camp, and additional gunfire erupted. Residents said the two dead were members of Islamic Jihad, a militant group.Israeli military officials said forces surrounded a house where armed militants were known to be hiding, and soldiers returned fire from the house. Soldiers said five Palestinians were hit by gunfire.The State Department registered its disapproval Wednesday of Israel’s extension of a security fence into the large West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim and called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from several West Bank towns.And Palestinians charged that Israel issued the confiscation orders in the West Bank while world attention was riveted on the forcible removal of settlers and demolition of their homes by Israeli bulldozers.Besides objecting to loss of land, Palestinians said the barrier would cut them off from the part of Jerusalem they claim for a state and reinforce Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s intention to solidify Israel’s grip on its main West Bank settlement blocs after the Gaza pullout.Maaleh Adumim, three miles east of Jerusalem in the Judean desert, has about 30,000 residents. Sharon has said repeatedly that it will remain in Israel even after a final peace accord with the Palestinians.Israel says the barrier is needed to keep suicide bombers from entering the country. When complete, the 425-mile complex of walls, electric fences, trenches and barbed wire is expected to include about 8 percent of the West Bank on the “Israeli” side.Amos Gil, executive director of Ir Amim, an Israeli settlement monitoring group, said the Maaleh Adumim barrier confiscation would seize about 23 square miles of land.Attorney General Meni Mazuz approved the order after a legal review, the Justice Ministry said.But a senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat, said “such decisions will only serve to undermine any efforts to resume negotiations.”Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem for a state, complaining that the barrier route unilaterally sets a border. Palestinians have praised Israel’s pullout from Gaza and the West Bank but insist it must be followed by an exit from the rest of the territory.In the aftermath of the pullout from Gaza, Israeli media reported that a West Bank rabbi was brought to court to face allegations that he led the most violent episode, where extremists battled soldiers from the roof of the Kfar Darom synagogue, dousing them with paint and other liquids. Rabbi Yaakov Savir is to be charged with aggravated assault, the reports said, and 60 of his young followers are in prison.On Wednesday, Israel proposed a dual crossing between Gaza and Egypt, defense officials said. The current Rafah crossing would allow for free exit of people and goods, and a new crossing would be built at the Gaza-Egypt-Israel border for entry under Israeli supervision. Palestinians rejected the idea.The issue of the Rafah crossing is seen as critical to the future of Gaza. The crossing is Gaza’s only land link to the outside world without passing through Israel, which plans to maintain control over the territory’s Mediterranean seacoast and its airspace.Israel is concerned about terrorists and weapons entering Gaza after its evacuation, and also about being flooded with cheap goods through Gaza.Palestinian Economics Minister Mazen Sonnoqrot said the Palestinians want to maintain the Rafah crossing for both people and goods, with no Israeli supervision in either direction.Palestinian Cabinet minister Mohammed Dahlan expected an agreement in the coming week. “We are still following with the Israeli side the possibility to carry out substantial changes on border crossings,” he said.Vail – Colorado
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