Israel begins dismantling section of barrier

June 26, 2011 - 5:29 AM

NAALIN CROSSING, West Bank (AP) — Israel on Sunday began tearing down a section of its contentious West Bank separation barrier near a village that has come to symbolize Palestinian opposition to the enclosure, the military said.

The rerouting marks a major victory for the residents of Bilin and the international groups that have backed its struggle.

The dismantling of the section near the village of Bilin comes four years after the Supreme Court ordered it torn down, rejecting the military's argument that the route was necessary to secure the nearby Modiin Illit settlement.

Col. Saar Tsur, the regional brigade commander, said the military has begun taking apart a two mile (3.2 kilometer)-stretch of the barrier and has replaced it with a 1.6 mile-(2.7 kilometer) long wall adjacent to the settlement. He said the new route would give the military less response time in case of a potential infiltration.

"This is a new threat but we can handle it," he said, overlooking the new route. He said the work would be done by the end of the week.

Bilin lost half its land to the barrier, and years of weekly protests there have frequently evolved into clashes between activists and Israeli troops.

Israel began building the barrier in late 2002 to keep out Palestinian attackers. But it juts into the West Bank, and critics say the route is designed to grab land that Palestinians want for a state.

Tsur said the new route will put some 140 acres (55 hectares) back in Palestinian hands. He said the total cost of the project is $9 million.