IDF completes removal of 50 roadblocks across the W. Bank
Checkpoints located near Ramallah, Nablus; Israel says has also lifted 50 roadblocks in W. Bank.
With the removal of some ten "dirt mound" roadblocks across the West bank on Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces completed its lifting of 50 of the barriers this week, a measure Defense Minister Ehud Barak last week undertook to implement at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Barak's bureau said the roadblocks were located close to the cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Tul Karm and Qalqilyah, and were removed as part of a series of moves aimed at improving the lives of Palestinians announced by the defense minister at the meeting with Rice.
Also Thursday, Barak approved the allocation of NIS 8 million for the renovation of five large crossings in the West Bank. The Hawara checkpoint near Nablus is slated to be the first to be expanded and revamped.
The renovation will encompass improving the structures' lighting and water facilities, as well as installing sophisticated electronic equipment which would enable civilians, and not soldiers, to check the passing Palestinians from a distance.
On Wednesday, Israel told the United States and the Palestinian Authority that it has implemented most of the "concrete steps" agreed to last week, chiefly the removal of the 50 roadblocks in the West Bank and the dismantling of the Rimonim checkpoint east of Ramallah.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Sunday agreed to the measures aimed at paving the way for a final peace agreement later this year, beginning with the easing of restrictions in the West Bank, namely the removal of the roadblocks.
In a statement issued earlier this week, Barak's office said Israel would scrap 50 dirt mounds which restrict Palestinian travel between major West Bank cities. But citing security concerns, Israel had balked at Palestinian demands to dismantle major checkpoints.
Samir Abdallah, the Palestinian planning minister, said Israel's pledge to remove the dirt mounds did not go far enough, saying major checkpoints, choking the West Bank economy, must be taken down as well. "These are small steps," Abdallah said.
Meanwhile, Rice said Sunday that the U.S. would be following up on Israel's activities in the West Bank to verify if it was implementing its promises to ease access and movement for the Palestinian population.
Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem on the first of a three-day visit to the region, Rice said: "We will be verifying what it is they are doing and this is all aimed at trying to improve the movement and access of the Palestinian people in the West Bank."
"One of the reasons for the agreement that we have here is in fact we want to be much more systematic about what is being promised and what is being done than I think we have been able to be prior General [William] Fraser's mission," she said, referring to the U.S. envoy appointed to oversee implementation of the road map peace plan.
Rice said that "General William Fraser will be following up on the specifics and will be making certain that in fact that are 50 [roadblocks] and that they are being removed, that in fact they have some impact on the access and movement."
During the press conference in Jerusalem, Rice said that "General William Fraser will be following up on the specifics and will be making certain that in fact that are 50 [roadblocks] and that they are being removed, that in fact they have some impact on the access and movement."
The Israeli measures included a promise to allow the construction of 5,000 to 8,000 Palestinian homes near Ramallah, and the deployment of security forces in the northern West Bank city of Jenin.
The officials traveling with Rice also said, prior to her press conference, that the Palestinians had agreed to step up their efforts to prevent terror in the West Bank.
Israel maintains hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks and other travel restrictions in the West Bank, measures it says are needed to stop suicide bombers.
The Palestinians say the restrictions are excessive and have stifled their economy. They have made removal of the checkpoints a top priority as the two sides, with U.S. backing, try to negotiate a final peace agreement by the end of the year.