Israeli fence 'will harm one in three Palestinians'

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The "separation fence" Israel is building in the West Bank will have "severe humanitarian consequences" for almost 700,000 Palestinians, the UN warned yesterday.

More than 274,000 will be stranded outside the wall because Israel refuses to build it along the internationally recognised Green Line. Thousands will be forced to apply for Israeli military permits to live in their own homes.

But the consequences will reach further, the report warns. A further 400,000 Palestinians will be cut off from their farmland, their jobs, universities and schools. "This means that approximately 680,000 - 30 per cent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank - will be directly harmed by the wall," the UN said in a report.

The "fence" - a series of concrete walls, deep trenches and double fences fitted with electronic sensors - has attracted international condemnation. Palestinians call it "Israel's Berlin Wall". Even the US, Israel's main ally, says it is not happy with the route. Israel says the purpose is to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers crossing into Israel.

Only 11 per cent of the route approved so far runs along the Green Line, according to yesterday's UN report. The result is that 210,000 acres, or 14.5 per cent of the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, will be cut off from the rest of the West Bank by the wall.

International observers, including Condoleezza Rice, President George Bush's National Security Adviser, have said the project looks like an attempt to create a new de facto border - in other words a land grab of 210,000 acres. The Palestinians have warned that the wall could be the death of the two-state solution envisaged by President Bush.

Israel claims the fence is not intended to be a border and is a temporary measure. But the UN report says: "The damage caused by the destruction of land and property for the wall's construction is irreversible". The report describes how Palestinians will have to pass through checkpoints in the wall to reach their farmland, offices, schools and hospitals. In 12 places, enclaves will be surrounded by concrete walls.

The Israeli Cabinet recently approved a route for the fence which will cut 22km into the West Bank so that the Jewish settlement of Ariel can be on the "Israeli" side. The result of detours like this is that 142,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank in contravention of international law, and 274,000 Palestinians will be in the area between the fence and the Green Line.

But while the settlers will be allowed to cross freely in and out of Israel, the Palestinians will not. They will be confined to what Israel has decided will be a "closed zone". The report describes how some 13,545 Palestinians living in the "closed zone" next to a completed section of the wall have been told by the Israeli army that they must apply for permits to go on living in their own homes. The permits are valid for up to six months.

"These permits have turned a 'right' of Palestinians to live in their own homes into a privilege," the report says. Palestinian farmers, businessmen, doctors, medical staff and aid organisations will have to apply for permits to enter the "closed zone". The report says Israeli citizens and non-citizens of Jewish origin are exempt.

"Little consideration appears to have been given by the Israeli government to the wall's impact on Palestinian lives," says the report.

"If the military orders that restrict entry into the closed areas between the Green Line and the wall are applied to the new parts of the wall, then many thousands of Palestinians are likely to be forced from their homes and land."