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Restrictions blocking Palestinians from entering the Jordan Valley will be lifted in May, Defense Minister Amir Peretz's bureau has informed the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

The ACRI wrote to the defense minister in December 2006, demanding that limitations on movement in the area be rescinded.

Starting in 2005, the Israel Defense Forces has been prohibiting movement by Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, which constitutes about a third of the area of the West Bank. The order excluded Palestinians registered as Jordan Valley residents - approximately 27,000 people - but included residents of Jericho. Exceptions were also made for a small number of people who received limited permits from the Civil Authority, or those working in Jordan Valley settlements.

Most of the land owned by or leased to Palestinian villagers in the mountains west of the valley is located in the valley, and local farming was hard-hit by the prohibition. Shepherds from mountain villages could not take their sheep to pasture in the valley, or keep their families together there if their registered address was not in the valley.

Thousands of Palestinians who used to work in the valley also lost their jobs. Palestinians who wanted to go to Jordan via the Allenby Bridge, east of Jericho, also faced problems.

ACRI attorney Limor Yehuda, who wrote the letter to the defense ministry in December 2006, noted that a military commander who wants to declare an area a closed military zone must do so "by means of a written order, as required." Since no such order had been issued, Limor wrote, "the prohibitions were imposed and enforced without authority."

But even if legal orders had been issued, she added, "these are invalidated by national-ethnic discrimination, since the prohibition on movement is imposed based on individuals' national-ethnic group."

An aide to the defense minister, Ruth Bar, responded to ACRI in writing on April 10. "After examining the arguments and facts noted in your letter, a reappraisal of the need for the above-mentioned movement restrictions has been made," she wrote. "It has been decided that the restrictions will be lifted soon, so entry to the Jordan Valley will be allowed to all residents of the West Bank, contingent on security checks at various points." Bar informed

ACRI that security arrangements for lifting the prohibitions would be completed by the end of May.