JERUSALEM - Israel has amended the route of its separation barrier and will bring it closer to the West Bank boundary to comply with an Israeli court order. But the barrier will still run inside the West Bank, an Israeli official said yesterday.
Also yesterday, an Israeli helicopter missile strike killed two Palestinian militants traveling in a car in the southern Gaza Strip, and troops fatally shot a wanted militant in the West Bank town of Tulkarm, the military and Palestinian witnesses said. And two Palestinians were killed in southern Gaza when a bomb they were carrying exploded prematurely as they headed toward a Jewish settlement, a military official said.
The barrier is a shield against suicide bombers and it has contributed to a sharp decline in attacks, Israel says. Palestinians say that Israel is free to build the barrier on the West Bank boundary, known as the Green Line. But Palestinians strongly object to the barrier's presence inside the West Bank, on land that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
"When the new maps are published they will show movement toward the Green Line, although not right on the Green Line," Netzah Mashiah, the Defense Ministry official in charge of the barrier project, told Israel radio.
Israel's High Court of Justice ruled last month that a part of the proposed barrier would impose too many hardships on Palestinians in several West Bank villages to the northwest of Jerusalem. Palestinians in this area, and elsewhere in the West Bank, say the barrier separates them from farmland, schools and jobs.
The court ordered about 20 miles rerouted in a ruling considered a precedent for the entire barrier, which is to travel more than 400 miles.
Security concerns must be balanced against humanitarian needs, the judges ruled, though they did not dictate a revised path.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government said it would comply with the Israeli court, though it has rejected the findings of the International Court of Justice in The Hague. That court said all parts of the barrier built inside the West Bank should be torn down.
Amos Yaron, the director general of the Defense Ministry, told army radio that the fence would be completed as planned by the end of 2005, despite the recent court ruling.
Based on the previously announced route, about 15 percent of the West Bank would be on the western, or Israeli side, according to calculations by the United Nations. It is unclear how much that will change under the new route.
In yesterday's violence, the Israeli helicopter attack in the southern Gaza town of Rafah killed Amr Abu Sita and another member of the Abu Rish Brigades, a small militant group. Abu Sita was involved in several killings of Israelis over the past decade, the military said.