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Israel to Shorten Security Barrier - 2004-02-08

Israel is to shorten its controversial West Bank security barrier in the hope of easing hardships on Palestinians. Observers say that the move is intended to win world support as the project comes before the International Court of Justice, later this month.

Israel says it will cut the length of its security barrier by moving it westward and reducing the number of Palestinian areas encircled by the project.

The decision was confirmed Sunday by officials in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The changes mean the final route of the barrier will be 600 kilometers, about 100 less than under the plan originally approved by the Israeli cabinet.

The revised route will be presented to senior officials of the U.S. administration who are due to visit Israel this week.

The changes follow protests from the Palestinian leadership that the project is an attempt by Israel to seize more territory and unilaterally determine the borders of a future Palestinian State.

Israel denies the claims. It maintains that the West Bank barrier is meant to prevent Palestinian militants from crossing over into the Jewish state to carry out suicide bombings and other terror attacks.

Israeli officials insist that the structure can be dismantled if and when a final peace agreement is reached with the Palestinians.

Israel says it is prepared to defend its position against a series of legal challenges.

Petitions against the barrier are to be heard soon both in the Israeli High Court and at the International Court of Justice at The Hague.