April 4, 2008 - 6:16pm

Israel on Thursday said  it had removed 50 roadblocks in the West Bank as part of promises made to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but US and Palestinian officials could not confirm their removal.

A senior US official said "it is hard to assess" the impact of the roadblocks' removal, let alone confirm they were scrapped, because Israel had yet to give Washington or the Palestinians a map showing where the dirt-mound obstacles were.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian peace negotiator, said "nothing has changed on the ground", comments echoed by four senior Palestinian security officials who monitor Israeli operations in the West Bank.

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On Sunday, after talks Rice held with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on bolstering peace negotiations, Israel said it would remove 50 roadblocks, ease travel for Palestinian businessmen and increase the number of entry permits for Palestinian workers.

An army spokeswoman and a defence official said the obstacles had been taken down. They declined to say where the roadblocks were located or when they were dismantled.

"We have asked for a map and I understand the Palestinians have also asked," the US official said. "Our intention is to verify what's happened on the ground."

Israel has built up a network of hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks in the occupied West Bank, home to 2,5 million Palestinians. It says the barriers stop suicide bombers from reaching its cities.

Palestinians say travel restrictions imposed by Israel stifle their economy. Israel has pledged in the past to remove West Bank barriers but failed to do so, Western officials said.


'No point in talking'

A Palestinian negotiator said there's no point in talking peace with Israel as long as the construction of colonies continues. Negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo said talks should stop as long as building goes on. "The peace process and negotiations have run into a crisis because of the continued Israeli expansion," he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, however, has said negotiations would continue.


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