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Amnesty Blasts Israel for Damage to Palestinian Economy - 2003-09-08

The human rights group Amnesty International says the Palestinian economy has been severely harmed by Israel's building of a security barrier and the imposition of travel restrictions. The human rights group says two out of three Palestinians are living in poverty.

Amnesty International says Israel's military closures, blockades, checkpoints, roadblocks, curfews and other restrictions have had a disastrous impact on the lives of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The group says these measures by Israel have crippled the Palestinian economy. But Israel maintains the restrictions are necessary for the country's security.

The report, entitled "Israel and the Occupied Territories: Surviving the Siege," says 60 percent of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are living below the poverty line of $2 a day. It says one out of two eligible workers is jobless.

Amnesty says the Palestinian economy is also being threatened by Israel's construction of a new security fence in the West Bank.

Gilbert Marcus, a prominent South African lawyer and delegate to Amnesty International, told VOA that Israel must be made aware of the widespread harm it is causing to Palestinians.

"What appears to be the position now is that closures, curfews, the construction of this barrier - this fence - have the inevitable consequence of affecting people on a vast scale," said Mr. Marcus.

Amnesty's Report says that the barrier has serious economic and social consequences for some 200,000 Palestinians in the West Bank.

The organization's latest report says the security barrier cuts off scores of Palestinian villages from the rest of the West Bank or from their farming land. The land in these areas is among the most fertile in the West Bank, with better water resources than elsewhere.

Israel says the barrier is necessary to prevent Palestinians from crossing into the Jewish State to carry out suicide bombings and other terror attacks.

Mr. Marcus says that while Israel has the right to bolster its security, it must also take care to ensure it does not violate the human rights of ordinary Palestinians. "Where there are legitimate security concerns, that does not grant a license to the Israeli authorities, or anybody else for that matter, to take disproportionate measures," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has acknowledged that the security fence will have an impact on law-abiding Palestinians, and he pledged to look for ways to ease the plight of those cut off from their fields.

Officials with Israel's Foreign Affairs Ministry also say they are studying the Amnesty report and are preparing a response.