JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s defense minister endorsed
a plan yesterday to speed up checks at West Bank roadblocks, but
also make them more permanent — a sign that crippling travel
restrictions on Palestinians will not be lifted soon.

Julie Pannuto
Palestinian medics wheel in a wounded boy into a hospital in Deir El-Balah in central Gaza Strip on Sunday. Israeli troops traded heavy gunfire with Palestinians in a raid near this refugee camp Sunday. (AP PHOTO)

The plan includes a code of conduct for soldiers, high-tech
devices and a special lane for ambulances, VIPs and foreigners,
according to a Defense Ministry statement.

One Israeli army commander recommended this week that Israel use
millions of dollars confiscated from Palestinian banks to improve
roadblocks, but it was not clear whether Defense Minister Shaul
Mofaz adopted the idea.

Israel set up dozens of roadblocks in the West Bank after
Palestinian-Israeli violence erupted in 2000 to keep militants from
reaching Israel. Soldiers enforce frequent curfews and travel bans,
crippling movement in the territory and harming the Palestinian
economy.

Palestinians often wait in long lines to be checked. Human
rights groups have complained about Israeli abuses, chronicling
cases of ambulances being held up or of soldiers beating innocent
Palestinians. Israel has admitted wrongdoing some cases, denying
others or attributing them to security needs.

Israel insists the roadblocks are needed to stop suicide bombers
and other Palestinian attackers. Suicide bombers have killed more
than 450 Israelis. Altogether, in 41 months of fighting, over 2,700
people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 930 on the
Israeli side.

Mofaz’s move to upgrade the roadblocks comes at a time
when Israel is proposing a pullout from all or most of the Gaza
Strip if peace talks remain stalled. Palestinians fear such a
withdrawal will be accompanied by a concerted Israeli effort to dig
into major parts of the West Bank.

The Defense Ministry statement said the changes were meant
“for humanitarian improvements for Palestinians in West
Bank,” but also included “transforming all roadblocks
into regular crossing points/terminals governed by a work
plan,” language that indicates permanence. The ministry did
not immediately respond to a clarification request.

Among the planned improvements are high-tech devices for
identifying people to speed up passage — a significant
investment for an army hard hit by government budget cuts and
another sign of a long-term project.

Another aspect of the plan is to alter the route of
Israel’s contentious separation barrier, also meant to stop
bombers. The statement said humanitarian factors would be taken
into account.

Palestinians complain that the planned route of the barrier cuts
deep into the West Bank and encircles towns and villages, cutting
tens of thousands off from their fields, schools and services.

They charge that the real purpose of the complex of fences,
walls, trenches and barbed wire is to prevent them from creating a
state.

The Defense Ministry statement said gates in the barrier, meant
to allow farmers access to their lands, would be open longer.
Farmers complain that in the section already completed, along the
northern section of the West Bank, the gates are frequently
closed.

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