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Israel Changes Route of West Bank Security Barrier - 2003-12-30

Israel, acting under strong international pressure, says it is making changes to the route of its West Bank security barrier to try to make life easier for the Palestinians.

Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that they plan to alter the route of the controversial security barrier.

Under the changes, Israel intends to widen the opening in the barrier that links the Palestinian town of Qalqilyah to the rest of the West Bank.

Under the original plan, Qalqilyah was faced with being enclosed by the barrier from both the east and the west, making it an enclave. The motivation behind that version of the plan was to allow Jewish settlers free movement between their communities and in the direction of Israel.

No decision has yet been made to remove the barrier on the eastern side of Qalqilyah, but a large opening will be cut into it, in a bid to give Palestinian residents greater freedom of movement. Israeli commentators say the change has been prompted by the continuing protests in the town against the project, which has attracted international attention and harmed Israel's reputation abroad.

Israel also has dropped plans to encircle the Palestinian village of Baka al-Sharkiya in a similar fashion.

While agreeing to make such changes, Israel is still determined to complete the barrier, which runs along and inside the West Bank.

Israel says the project, which consists of razor wire in some sections and concrete slabs in others, is already stopping Palestinian suicide bombers from entering the Jewish state.

The Palestinian leadership claims the barrier is an attempt by Israel to seize more territory and to unilaterally determine the borders of a future Palestinian state.

Israel insists the barrier does not constitute a new political boundary and that it can be removed if and when there is a final peace agreement with the Palestinians.