U.N. report assesses Israel's barrier plans

It says route will disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians

November 12, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JERUSALEM - The route for Israel's planned boundary barrier would put nearly 15 percent of West Bank land on the Israeli side and disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, according to a United Nations report released yesterday.

The report is based on calculations made after Israel presented its first detailed map of the barrier last month. Israeli officials questioned the accuracy of the report, by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and said the government was still assessing how many Palestinians would be affected.

"We think the U.N. is toying with the numbers," said Rachel Niedak-Ashkenazi, a spokeswoman for Israel's Defense Ministry, which is responsible for the project. "We do have one number: The 6.5 million Israelis will be better protected when the fence is finished."

The barrier, which includes an electronic fence, concrete walls, trenches and other obstacles, is intended to block Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers, and is not a political border, Israel insists. It veers into the West Bank to protect Jewish settlements, Israel says.

But Palestinians say the path amounts to the confiscation of land and sets a de facto boundary that would make it difficult to establish a viable Palestinian state.

The U.N. agency said the map released by Israel showed the barrier running more than 400 miles on a twisting route through the West Bank. The barrier will totally surround 12 Palestinian communities, leaving residents able to leave only through gates controlled by Israeli security forces, the report said.

Only 11 percent of the barrier is to be built along the so-called Green Line, the armistice line set at the end of the 1948-1949 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

The fence will put 14.5 percent of West Bank land on the western, or Israeli, side, the report said, adding: "This land, some of the most fertile in the West Bank, is currently the home for more than 274,00 Palestinians."

The U.N. agency made a rough estimate that an additional 400,000 Palestinians would be adversely affected. In some instances, the barrier is going up between Palestinian villages and nearby farmland. In many small Palestinian communities, employees and students must cross the barrier to reach larger cities and towns where they work or study.

David Shearer, the head of the U.N. humanitarian agency in Jerusalem, said the report was not intended "to make any sort of political point."

"We simply wanted to highlight the severe problems these people would face," he said.

Israel has acknowledged that tens of thousands of Palestinians will be affected. But Israel says it is building gates and taking other steps to minimize disruptions to Palestinian lives.

"To say that we are not taking humanitarian issues into account is misleading," Niedak-Ashkenazi said.

About one-quarter of the planned barrier has been built so far, most of it in the northern West Bank and around parts of Jerusalem.

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