- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

JERUSALEM — The Israeli government has begun to modify the route of its West Bank security barrier in response to international criticism, though the changes will do little to satisfy Palestinian complaints.

The newspaper Ha’aretz reported yesterday that the West Bank town of Qalqilya, which virtually had been surrounded by fences, will be removed from near isolation by the elimination of part of the barrier. In addition, plans to cut off the large village of Baka al-Sharkiya with a fence have been dropped, and further modifications are being considered.

The newspaper reported that security considerations “have suddenly gained the upper hand” in deciding the fence’s route, which until now has been viewed widely as an attempt to stake out future borders.

Also yesterday, Israeli authorities posted notices at four West Bank settlements announcing the army’s intention to remove or demolish trailer homes and other infrastructure set up on the unauthorized sites.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government has announced plans to ultimately remove more than 100 illegal outposts, many of them not yet settled. Only one of the four outposts targeted yesterday, Ginot Aryeh, is occupied.

Settlement leaders said they would not resist the dismantling of the three unoccupied sites but would muster 5,000 to 10,000 protesters to defend Ginot Aryeh. They said they would not battle the soldiers and police but would prevent the dismantling of the outpost by sheer numbers.

The settlers fear a precedent for the dismantling of other occupied sites, including established settlements that have been erected in the past two decades by various Israeli governments.

A spokesman for Mr. Sharon, Raanan Gissin, said the evacuation of the sites would be carried out as planned.

“The prime minister is determined to fulfill his obligation in terms of personal credibility as well as the credibility of the state of Israel,” he said. “You are going to see more of this.”

Palestinian minister Saeb Erekat said the removal of the four outposts does not go far toward meeting the demands of the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan, which calls for removal of all illegal outposts before political negotiations are resumed.

“The world is sick and tired of these public-relations stunts — Israelis moving a caravan here and a caravan there,” he said.

Israel’s Interior Ministry released figures yesterday showing that the number of settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip had risen 16 percent since early 2001, shortly before Mr. Sharon took office.

The statistics show the settler population at 236,381, up from 203,067 at the end of 2000.

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