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Brig. Gen Gershon "Jerry" Yitzhak, commander of the military forces in the West Bank, has ordered most of the checkpoints in the territory be removed, in order to reduce friction with the Palestinian population and deny potential attacks on stationary targets. The checkpoints will be replaced with surprise checks on suspicious vehicles.

Many of the dozens of checkpoints in the territories, mostly in the Judea and Etzion areas, have already been removed. The orders refer to checkpoints that served as siege points around towns and cities, but not to closure checkpoints, meaning on roads that lead from the West Bank into Israel. Those checkpoints are now going to be fortified and institutionalized as crossing points, with security controls, military police and either border control officials or personnel from the Ports Authority, who will provide sophisticated technologies for security measures.

Yitzhak's decision was made in the wake of internal discussions in the Central Command and the Judea and Samaria command, which he heads. It is part of a "safety zone" concept proposed by Yitzhak to the command and the general staff. The concept is aimed at taking more offensive initiatives, defense of the settlers, prevention of attempted hostile infiltration into Israel, and reducing the security pressures on the Palestinian population.

Removing the permanent checkpoints and instituting surprise checkpoints, which would be put up on presumed routes taken by suspected terrorists, has three purposes: To get rid of stationary positions that make the soldiers manning them vulnerable; to prevent emotional and physical strain on the soldiers who are posted for many hours checking hundreds of cars and thousands of civilians; and to reduce friction with the local population, which responds with hostility to the lengthy delays at the checkpoints. Another, undeclared, purpose is to reduce the growing public criticism of the behavior of troops at the checkpoints toward the civilian population.

Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, who visited the Menashe Brigade headquarters yesterday, said that only a few cases presented reason for complaints about soldier behavior at the checkpoints and added that all of these were under investigation. "But even one or two cases is too many," he said. Mofaz, accompanied by Central Command's Major General Yitzhak Eitan, and Yitzhak, ordered the brigade and regimental commanders to appoint officers or senior sergeants to command checkpoints and to conduct frequent surprise checks. Making the checkpoint policy more efficient is one of the main jobs of a senior officer, the Judea and Samaria military groups' chief of staff, or "deputy commander," the title Yitzhak has bestowed on Col. Rami Tzur.

Mofaz told Golani, artillery and Border Patrol officers in the brigade headquarters that there is no point in continuing military activities that become weak points and invite attack. Weak points should be eliminated or strengthened, Mofaz explained, referring to some of the checkpoints, their fortifications, and the qualifications of the soldiers and their equipment. According to officers in Yitzhak's command, the relative calm in the security situation in the Hebron (Judea) and Bethlehem (Etzion) areas allowed lifting the checkpoints there so that Palestinians traveling from south of Mt. Hebron to the Jerusalem area don't encounter any checkpoints. In the Samaria region, where much of the most recent military activity is taking place in Jenin, Tul Karm and particularly Nablus, there has been a delay in lifting the checkpoints.

According to Yitzhak's "safety zone" plan, the crossing points from the territories into Israel will be institutionalized but, due to the political sensitivity of the issue, not with the full features of a border crossing.

Central Command sources made clear this week that the IDF has no plans to put up a fence between Israel and the territories. The current ideas under discussion in the general staff and the Central Command are to build a 60-70-kilometer-long ground obstacle at a cost of some NIS 1 billion. It would take a year to build and would not be a full solution because in the West Bank, as opposed to the Gaza Strip, much of the land designated for the obstacle is privately-owned and farmland. The Central Command policy is to avoid whenever possible the demolition of privately-owned buildings or to take farmland for the purpose of widening access routes.