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EU envoy says Jerusalem barrier raises humanitarian concerns

2005-07-11 09:19:00

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EU envoy says Jerusalem barrier raises humanitarian concerns
12:09 PM EDT Jul 11

JERUSALEM (AP) - The separation barrier Israel is building in Jerusalem raises humanitarian problems for Palestinians and could complicate future negotiations on a final peace deal, the visiting European Foreign policy chief said Monday, after meeting with Israeli leaders.

Israel's Cabinet on Sunday approved final details of the Jerusalem barrier, which will cut off four Arab neighbourhoods with some 55,000 residents from the city, while including tens of thousands of West Bank settlers on the Jerusalem side.

Palestinian officials said Israel's main goal in building the barrier is not improving security, but shifting the disputed city's demographic balance in favour of Jews. Israel insists the barrier is only a temporary measure, to keep out suicide bombers, and that it is not drawing a final border around the city, part of which is claimed by the Palestinians as a future capital.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, meanwhile, said Israel is seeking an additional $2.2 billion US in aid to help pay for the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

Israel is the biggest recipient of U.S. aid, getting an annual $2.3 billion for economic and military purposes, but says it needs more money to remove some 9,000 settlers and develop the Galilee and Negev Desert regions for resettlement. The request is to be delivered later Monday in Washington.

Palestinians fear that Israel is unilaterally drawing its borders, by pulling out of Gaza, beefing up large West Bank settlement blocs and building the barrier around Jerusalem. The fate of Jerusalem and the settlements is to be determined in talks on a final peace deal.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Monday that the Jerusalem barrier is inflicting a "catatastrophe" on the Palestinians who hope to establish a future capital in east Jerusalem, the sector Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War. Some 230,000 Palestinians live in east Jerusalem and make up about one-third of the city's residents.

The barrier is part of a longer series of obstacles and dividers that runs along and in the West Bank.

The 60-kilometre Jerusalem segment, which is halfway complete, does not run along the municipal boundaries. Instead, it meanders, cutting off four Arab neighbourhoods with some 55,000 residents, while including the Jewish West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim with 30,000 residents.

Palestinian officials say the barrier pre-empts the outcome of final peace talks because it cuts off east Jerusalem from the West Bank and also shifts the demographic balance in the city.

"The whole idea (of the barrier) is to get as many Palestinian outside Jerusalem, and get as many Israelis (as possible) inside," Erekat said. "This is determining the fate of Jerusalem before we begin negotiations."

Erekat said he would raise the issue with international envoys visiting the region this week, including senior U.S. State Department official David Welch. "We have contacted them (the Americans), but they haven't responded," Erekat said.

The United States says Israel has the right to defend itself, but should minimize hardship to Palestinians in drawing the barrier route. U.S. officials were not available on Sunday to comment on the latest Israeli Cabinet statement.

Visiting EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the Jerusalem barrier raises humanitarian problems for Palestinians. "We think that Israel has a right to defend itself but we think that the fence when it is done outside the territory of Israel is not legally proper and it creates also humanitarian problems," he said after meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

Zeev Boim, Israel's deputy defence minister, denied the route of the barrier was dictated by demographic considerations. "The fence was put up because of security needs, to stop terrorism," he told Israel Army Radio.

During four years of fighting, more than 100 Palestinian suicide bombers have crossed the unmarked and mostly unguarded ceasefire line between Israel and the West Bank to attack Israeli cities. In Jerusalem alone, 170 people have been killed in 22 suicide bombings. The last one there was in September 2004.

Cabinet ministers promised Sunday to try to alleviate hardships for the tens of thousands of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, who pay municipal taxes but will soon find themselves on the wrong side of the barrier, and will have to pass through 11 crossings to get to jobs and schools in the city. The government said it would build some new schools and clinics in the Arab neighbourhoods cut off by the barrier.

The Cabinet ordered government offices to be ready with services for those affected by Sept. 1.

© The Canadian Press, 2005

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