West Bank road partially opened to Palestinian traffic

Image caption,
The motorway was shut to Palestinian traffic in 2002 after a series of attacks

The Israeli military has partially opened a motorway that runs through the occupied West Bank to Palestinian drivers, to comply with a ruling by Israel's Supreme Court.

For Israelis, Highway 443 is a major link between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The Israeli military banned Palestinian cars in 2002 after shooting attacks on the road killed six Israeli motorists.

In 2009, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that the general closure of the road to Palestinians was illegal.

The road was built in the 1980s, according to the Israeli human rights group B'tselem, some of the land was expropriated privately-owned Palestinian land.

At the time it was argued that the road would benefit Palestinians.

The 25km (15 mile) four-lane road links Israel's coastal plain with the area north of Jerusalem. About 14km of it run through the West Bank. An estimated 40,000 Israeli drivers use the route daily.

'False impression'

As it opened the road, the Israeli military set up new road blocks and checkpoints along the route.

Palestinians will now able to use part of Highway 443 to reach some of the villages alongside it.

Access to Ramallah - the West Bank's economic and administrative centre - will not be allowed, nor will the road provide access to Jerusalem for Palestinian drivers.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), which petitioned the Supreme Court to allow Palestinians onto Highway 443, said the army was "acting in utter disregard of the spirit of the ruling".

"This creates the false impression of new regulations, genuine freedom of movement and adherence to the rule of law, though in fact no real change will occur," Acri said in a statement.

Israel has built an extensive road network in the West Bank to serve the settlements.

Palestinian traffic is prohibited or restricted on these roads by a system of roadblocks and checkpoints that human rights groups have criticised as informal and arbitrary.

Israeli security officials say the restrictions are imposed for security reasons.

The restrictions on access to roads force Palestinians to use long and winding routes rather than direct roads, adding greatly to the duration of journeys.

Israel has occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 1967, settling close to 500,000 Jews in more than 100 settlements.

There are about 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.

The settlements are illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.