Israel to Remove Roadblocks 'Slowly and Gradually'

Israel will alleviate traffic restrictions in the West Bank slowly and gradually if the security situation allows it, a defense source said yesterday.

"We will start by removing 10 to 20 roadblocks in the periphery, gradually and prudently," the source said.

The Central Command is due to present Defense Minister Ehud Barak with a paper today on removing roadblocks in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert instructed Barak and the defense establishment to prepare a plan of traffic alleviations among the Palestinian cities and villages in the West Bank.

Olmert is still waiting for the defense establishment's suggestions, after promising the United States and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that he would facilitate traffic in the West Bank.

The Shin Bet and IDF object to removing roadblocks, citing their importance in preventing terror attacks.

"There are 20 fixed roadblocks, then there are border crossings and dozens of flying roadblocks. If we remove a central roadblock and there's a terror attack, the Palestinians will suffer, because there will be no going back," a defense source said.

Barak has decided to keep the fixed roadblocks in place and expand the flying roadblocks' activity, after training special forces to operate them.

The alleviations, which will take place only on side roads at first, will consist of removing physical barriers such as concrete cubes and earth mounds placed at village entrances to prevent passage.

The United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and other international organizations aiding the Palestinians, see blocking the roads as the main obstacle to rehabilitating the Palestinian economy.

According to OCHA figures from last month, there are 532 Israeli roadblocks in the West Bank, including 86 fixed checkpoints and 446 unmanned barriers.