Archive for Sunday, February 22, 2004

Thousands protest West Bank barrier

February 22, 2004

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— Thousands of Palestinians staged protests of Israel's West Bank barrier Saturday, and Israel prepared to remove a small stretch of its fencing, two days before the start of world court hearings on the legality of the structure.

In one of the largest public outpourings of anger over the barrier, Palestinians across the West Bank fired guns in the air and shouted anti-barrier chants, the first of several protests planned to coincide with the opening of hearings on Monday at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

Today, Israeli workers are to begin removing a part of the barrier -- about 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, Defense Ministry spokeswoman Rachel Niedak-Ashkenazi said.

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

"Since there is no intention to annex land or annex Palestinians to Israel, we are removing this part of the fence," Niedak-Ashkenazi said.

The move appeared aimed at softening international criticism of Israel ahead of the world court hearings. Israel has come under increasing pressure, even domestic legal challenges, to reroute the barrier, which dips deep into the West Bank in places.

The barrier has become one of the most contentious issues in the Mideast conflict.

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