Middle East

West Bank barrier section at Bilin is re-routed

Tractor removes fence near Bilin (26/06/11)
Image caption The section is being removed four years after a High Court order

Israeli troops have begun to dismantle part of the controversial West Bank barrier near the Palestinian village of Bilin, four years after a court ordered it to be re-routed.

Palestinians have protested weekly for years at Bilin, which they say lost half its land to the barrier.

The protests often ended in violent clashes with Israeli troops.

Critics have accused Israel of grabbing land. Israel says the barrier is a necessary security measure.

It began building the proposed 720-km (430-mile) barrier in 2002 after a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings originating in the West Bank.

Parts of it jut deep into the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967 and claimed as territory for a putative state by the Palestinians.

In 2004, the World Court at The Hague issued an advisory ruling that the barrier was illegal and should be removed where it did not follow the Green Line, the internationally recognised boundary between the West Bank and Israel.

Four years ago, Israel's High Court ordered the government to re-route the barrier, saying it encroached too much on Palestinian land in Bilin, where it cuts some 3km (2 miles) into farmers' fields.

The Israeli military says a new concrete barrier has been erected near the Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit, in place of the section of the barrier being removed.

Local commander Col Saar Tzur said the re-routing would restore about 140 acres (57 hectares) of land to the Palestinians. He said about 50 acres would remain off-limits to them, Reuters news agency reported.

Palestinians gave a cautious welcome to the move.

"It makes me happy but still we are far away from what we are looking for and what we want to achieve," Mohammed Khatib of Bilin's Popular Resistance movement was quoted by Reuters as saying.