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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

West Bank Barrier Ruled Unjust

JERUSALEM -- In a precedent-setting decision, Israel's Supreme Court ordered the government Wednesday to change a large section of its West Bank barrier, saying the current route violates the basic human rights of the local Palestinian population.

The court said the changes must be made, even at the risk of reducing Israeli security.

In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, Israeli troops encircled the northern town of Beit Hanoun, tearing up roads in an ongoing offensive aimed at halting Palestinian rocket attacks. A Palestinian teenager was killed, Palestinian sources said.

The court decision -- the first major ruling on the barrier -- is expected to affect other sections of the contentious separation barrier. It signaled the court would reject other parts of the barrier that separate Palestinians from their lands, cut villages off from each other or prevent people from reaching population centers.

"Only a separation route based on the path of law will lead the state to the security so yearned for," the court said in its ruling. "The route ... injures the local inhabitants in a severe and acute way, while violating their rights under humanitarian and international law," it said.

Israel says the barrier is needed to prevent suicide bombers and other attackers from reaching Israeli towns and cities. But the complex of fences, concrete walls, trenches and razor wire has severely disrupted the lives of thousands of Palestinians by separating them from jobs, schools and farmland.

About one-quarter of the 680-kilometer barrier, which dips deep into the West Bank in some sections, has been completed.

Wednesday's case focused on a 40-kilometer stretch of the barrier northwest of Jerusalem, where 35,000 people live in eight villages. The fence would separate the villagers from 3035 hectares, most of it cultivated, including tens of thousands of olive trees, fruit trees and other crops.

"To have the chief justice of the Supreme Court say you can't put the Palestinians in prison ... in the name of the security of Israel, that is really important. That is the least I can say," said Mohammed Dahla, a lawyer for the petitioners.

He said the court had ordered changes in about 30 kilometers of the stretch. Israel Radio said three kilometers of completed construction would also have to be dismantled.

The ruling said the route had "severely violated" the local population's freedom of movement and "severely impaired" their livelihoods. It described the villages as being in a "virtual chokehold."

The court forced the government to return land that has been seized and compensate the Palestinians for their financial losses. The court froze construction of the section near Jerusalem in late February, shortly after two protesters were killed in a stone-throwing clash with soldiers in the path of construction.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia played down the ruling.

"The wall is an act of aggression whether it remains as is, or they introduce changes in its route. This wall should be knocked down as other walls in the world, like the Berlin Wall," he said.

The Palestinians have also asked the world court in the Hague, Netherlands, to rule on the legality of the barrier. The world court is expected to issue its advisory ruling next week.