The United Nations said in a report Friday that the number of Israeli obstacles in the West Bank has increased by 7 percent since last September, despite an Israeli pledge to ease Palestinian movement in the area as part of fledgling peace talks.

The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Jerusalem said the overall number of obstacles increased from 566 on September 4, 2007 to 607 on April 29, 2008. The shift included the construction of 144 new closures and the removal of 103 in the same time period.

The UN agency, OCHA, added that the army removed an additional seven closure obstacles so far in May. It said its findings amounted to a slight deterioration in overall access in the reported period.

The report came out shortly after visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner criticized Israel's network of roadblocks and checkpoints, which are seen as a key impediment to the recovery of the Palestinian economy.

"The restrictions on access and mobility are still significant," Kouchner said at a Palestinian investment conference in Bethlehem. "They have not yet been alleviated as they should have. Israel should and Israel can exert more efforts in this regard without endangering its security."

Israel says it cannot move faster in easing restrictions because Palestinian militants still pose a threat.

Government spokesman Mark Regev, speaking before the OCHA report was published, said Israel is doing its utmost to improve freedom of movement in the West Bank.

"That's our challenge to take down roadblocks, to try to create greater movement and access for Palestinians while maintaining security. That's what we're trying to do," he said.

Kouchner invited to visit Gaza

Meanwhile, the Hamas government ruling the Gaza Strip called on Kouchner to visit the territory to learn about the suffering of its people.

Taher al-Nounou, a spokesman for the government, said the invitation "was motivated by France's moral stance which was reflected throughout Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's remarks."

Al-Nounou added that the Hamas government "welcomes an active French role for ending the current divisions among the Palestinians," referring to the standoff between Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement.