- Army seals off main route to Palestinian vehicles
- Opponents say plan is to carve out new borders
The Israeli military has blocked Palestinians from driving on the main artery through the West Bank in a first step towards what Israeli human rights groups say is total "road apartheid" being enforced throughout the occupied territory.
The army sealed off access to Route 60 after the fatal shooting of three settlers near Bethlehem on Sunday. No private Palestinian cars are permitted on the road although public transport is still allowed.
The Israeli newspaper Maariv yesterday said the government quietly gave the military the go-ahead earlier this week for a plan to culminate in barring all Palestinians from roads used by Israelis in the West Bank. "The purpose is to reach, in a gradual manner, within a year or two, total separation between the two populations. The first and immediate stage of separation applies to the roads in the territories: roads for Israelis only and roads for Palestinians only," the newspaper said.
The Palestinian leadership and others claim the separation plan, and the road network to make it possible, are elements of a wider strategy to carve out new Israeli borders inside the West Bank alongside the 420-mile security barrier under construction and expansion of settlements. The plan for the occupied territory reserves the main roads for Jewish settlers and other Israelis while Palestinians will be confined to secondary routes, many little better than dirt tracks or roads which have yet to be built. Palestinian vehicles, including heavy lorries, travelling from Bethlehem to Ramallah, for instance, will be forced to take a lengthy route on a narrow road through the hills while Israelis driving between settlements near to each of the towns will travel on a highway.
The Israeli government is building a number of new roads for Palestinians in areas where there are none, and plans 18 tunnels under or around roads or areas from which Palestinians will be barred. Israel is seeking foreign funding but the EU has said it is not prepared to pay for roads used in a parallel system. Israel has also built new roads in the West Bank, exclusively for non-Palestinians. "The separate roads are only one part of the separation plan," said Maariv. "One major goal of the plan is to turn the separation fence into a line to completely prevent Palestinians from entering Israeli territory."
Israeli human rights group BTselem said Palestinians are barred from or have restricted access to 450 miles of West Bank roads, a system with "clear similarities" to South Africa's former apartheid regime. Sarit Michaeli, of BTselem, said: "Israel is cynically manipulating the security fears of ordinary Israelis."
by Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Thursday October 20, 2005
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