Israeli Court Again Halts Work on Part of Barrier


The New York Times

July 2, 2004

JERUSALEM, July 1 - Israel's Supreme Court froze construction Thursday on part of the barrier Israel is building on the southeastern edge of Jerusalem. A day earlier, the same court had ordered the rerouting of another segment of the contentious barrier.

The ruling Thursday was seen as further evidence that the judiciary is prepared to take an active role in cases where Palestinians have petitioned the court arguing that the West Bank barrier is causing great disruption to everyday life.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gathered senior ministers and security officials on Thursday evening to discuss the implications of the court rulings. Zeev Boim, the deputy defense minister, told Israeli Army Radio that "we are going to implement the Supreme Court's decision, but we hope that in the future things will not drag on too long and will allow us to get on with building this project, which is a necessity for security."

The three-judge panel issued a restraining order that temporarily suspends construction on the barrier near Har Homa, a large Jewish neighborhood that has been established over the past few years. The petition was filed by Palestinian residents from the nearby village of Nuaman. The judges gave no indication whether they were likely to order a new route or let the existing one stand, court officials said.

Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war and claims the entire city as its capital. The Palestinians want eastern Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

In its decision on Wednesday, the high court had ordered the Israeli government to reroute about 20 miles of the barrier that was going up inside the West Bank, to the northwest of Jerusalem. In the court's first major ruling on the barrier's route, the judges said the government needed to balance security concerns with the needs of the Palestinians. The court did not dictate a new path, and Israeli officials said they would begin working out a new route.

Israel says the barrier is intended to stop Palestinian suicide bombers, and hopes to complete it by the end of next year. But this week's court rulings could slow the project, which is about one-quarter complete.

"We do not have any opinion about the route of the fence," said Ilan Tsion, the head of the private Israeli group, Fence for Life. "We just want the fence finished as soon as possible." Opinion polls show that most Israelis support this position, he said. But Palestinians view the barrier as an attempt to confiscate West Bank land they are seeking for a state.

In violence on Thursday, Israeli forces operating in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, shot and killed a 9-year-old Palestinian boy, according to Palestinian security officials. The Israeli military said it was searching for Palestinian weapons-smuggling tunnels in the area.

Also, Israeli forces remained in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun for a third day, in what is expected to be an extended stay aimed at preventing Palestinian rocket fire from the area.

The Israeli forces killed a member of the militant group Hamas on Wednesday night, according to Palestinian security officials.

At least a dozen Palestinians were wounded on Thursday, seven in a pair of missile strikes in Beit Hanun, and five in a gun battle with Israeli troops on the southern fringe of Gaza City, according to the security officials and the Israeli military.

Israeli troops entered Beit Hanun on Tuesday, a day after Palestinian rocket fire killed two Israelis, including a 3-year-old boy, in the town of Sederot, just outside Gaza. The Palestinians have not fired any rockets from the area for the past two days, the military said.

And in an arrest sweep, Israeli troops detained more than 30 people suspected of being militants during a rare incursion into Jericho.

In another development, Israeli officials have presented the United States with a list of 28 unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank, an American Embassy official said. Israel has pledged to remove all settlement outposts erected since March 2001, when Prime Minister Sharon came to power. But Israel has torn down only a small number of the outposts, most of them consisting of just a few mobile homes.

The Israeli move came as Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom headed to the United States for talks with the Bush administration on issues including the West Bank barrier and Israel's plan to withdraw from Gaza.