Middle East

West Bank: UN warns of new Israeli controls

Palestinian youth protests at Qalandia - March 2010
Image caption The Qalandia checkpoint between East Jerusalem and Ramallah has the feel of a permanent border crossing

The United Nations says it is increasingly concerned that Israel is about to tighten access restrictions to the occupied West Bank.

It has been briefing aid agencies that Israel could soon increase restrictions and strengthen its checkpoints.

The Israeli army declined to comment but privately officials acknowledge that changes will take place in the coming months.

Israel controls all movement in and out of the Palestinian territory.

The West Bank has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967.

It is not know what form those changes will take. But UN officials say they fear they could involve making it more difficult for foreign workers to travel between Israel and the West Bank without getting pre-arranged permission.

They also believe the changes would make it harder for Palestinians living in Israel, especially Jerusalem, to gain access to the West Bank. They also say it would make it harder to get goods in and out.

'More like Gaza'

The UN says it fears Israel could tighten its procedures so that entering and leaving the West Bank could become more like getting in and out of Gaza, where extremely tight restrictions apply.

"The collective punishment of 1.5 millions in Gaza has severely damaged Israel's image around the world. I can not see how establishing a Gaza-style crossing regime would be in anyone's interest," said Chris Gunness, a spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency which provides support for Palestinian refugees.

"I fervently urge Israel not to push ahead with its plan," he added.

In recent months Israel has been carrying out building work to expand some of its West Bank checkpoints, making them appear more permanent.

Seeking recognition

All this happens as the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, is increasingly talking about trying to independently seek a United Nations Security Council resolution to recognise a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders.

In the 1967 Six Day War, Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem It also captured the Golan Heights from Syria.

It is believed Israel has been discussing changing its crossing procedures in and out of the West Bank for some time.

But some analysts believe the government could eventually introduce such measures as a response to any Palestinian move to achieve international recognition of a Palestinian state.

Israel has been very critical of such moves, saying a Palestinian state can only be achieved through negotiation with Israel.

In the past, Israel has argued that by strengthening security at the main checkpoints in and out of the West Bank, it has been able to relax some of the internal checkpoints, making it easier for Palestinians to move around.

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