West Bank wall will enclose large settlement

Palestinian leader calls taking of land `disastrous'

August 25, 2005|By Laura King | Laura King,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - Israel said yesterday that it has ordered the seizure of land owned by Palestinians to build a barrier that will encompass the West Bank's largest Jewish settlement.

Palestinian officials objected vehemently to the plan, which effectively annexes the settlement of Maale Adumim to Israel. They called on the Bush administration to intercede.

"This is a disastrous decision," Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said yesterday.

The plan would place Maale Adumim, five miles east of Jerusalem, inside the security barrier that Israel is building around the West Bank. The settlement has been mentioned repeatedly by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as among the Jewish population centers in the West Bank that Israel intends to keep if and when the Palestinians achieve statehood.

The first of the expropriation orders called for the seizure of 22 acres in the village of A-tur, but local Palestinian leaders said they were told that more notices were to follow. The landowners have the right to appeal the orders to Israel's Supreme Court, and Palestinian officials indicated they would do so.

Erekat said, that in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from the Jewish settlements of the Gaza Strip and a small swath of the northern West Bank, "We are looking for hope and peace, but this step undermines any attempt to resume meaningful negotiations."

Israeli officials referred questions about the land seizures to the military, which issued the order and has broad discretion in such cases. The letter sent to landowners, signed by Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, the commander of Israeli forces in the West Bank, referred to "special security circumstances prevailing in the region."

Israel had announced plans to build 3,600 new homes in Maale Adumim, most of which would lie between the settlement and Jerusalem. That initiative was criticized by the Bush administration earlier this year. Israel's Cabinet voted in February to place the settlement inside the barrier, but without specifying its route.

Palestinians say the building project will sharply limit their access to Jerusalem from the West Bank and restrict their ability to travel between the northern and southern halves of the West Bank.

Challenges to Israel's high court have in several instances resulted in orders to reroute the 425-mile separation barrier, which is a blend of fencing and high concrete walls, augmented by patrol roads, watchtowers and trenches.

Israel built the barrier to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers, but the World Court ruled it illegal because it appropriates large tracts of Palestinian land.

Also yesterday, Israel said it had finalized an arrangement handing Egypt the primary responsibility for policing the Arab nation's border with Gaza. Israel currently has a heavy troop presence in the frontier zone, which is a major route for arms smuggling.

Sharon has said Israel wants to relinquish control of the Gazan-Egyptian border as part of its pullout from Gaza. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said the accord gives Egypt "comprehensive" responsibility to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the territory.

Palestinian troops are to play a role in policing the Egypt-Gaza border as well, but it has not been spelled out. Israeli troops will retain control of Gaza's borders with Israel.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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