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Israeli Court Orders Work Suspended on Part of Security Barrier - 2004-02-29

Israel's high court has ordered the government to suspend work on a section of a controversial security barrier near Jerusalem.

The court issued the order Sunday, after a petition presented by both Palestinians and Israelis living in the area.

It said construction of the barrier must stop pending a hearing next week on the petition submitted by residents of eight Palestinian West Bank villages, and Mevasseret Zion, a nearby Jewish town just northwest of Jerusalem.

The petition was filed after two Palestinians were killed Thursday by Israeli troops during a protest against the barrier.

Some of the 700 kilometers of fences, walls and ditches under construction are routed deep in the West Bank, cutting off Palestinian towns and villages from the rest of the Palestinian territory.

After repeated Palestinian protests and mounting pressure from the international community, the Israeli government is reconsidering parts of the planned route. A revised map of the barrier was recently given to U.S. envoys visiting Israel.

Palestinians say the barrier is part of an Israeli scheme to grab Palestinian territory. The Israeli government says it is needed to keep Palestinian militants from staging attacks against Israelis.

Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation is due in Washington for talks with senior U.S. officials about the prospects for peace in the Middle East.

The delegation is headed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, and Israeli National Security Advisor Giora Eiland.

More than three years of deadly violence in the region continued Saturday when an Israeli helicopter missile strike killed a senior commander of Islamic Jihad's military wing and two other Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.