July 28, 2008 - 4:31pm

Israel plans to tear down a small portion of an internationally condemned barrier and move it closer to its border with the occupied West Bank, an Israeli newspaper reported on Monday.

The Haaretz daily said a 2.4 km stretch of fencing would be moved in response to a petition filed with Israel's high court by Palestinians from two villages.

Palestinians would recover most of some 700 acres Israel had confiscated for the barrier near the West Bank town of Qalqilya, the report said.

The change would affect just a tiny portion of a network of fencing and cement walls that extends for a total of 405 km, much of it snaking through the West Bank.

Shlomo Dror, an Israeli government spokesman, would not comment specifically on the report, but said the barrier "was always subject to changes" in deference to court rulings.

The newspaper said the Israeli Defence Ministry had told the court it would loop the barrier further from two villages near Qalqilya, restoring most of the land they had lost.

Israel says it needs the barrier, which it has continued building despite a 2004 World Court ruling that it was illegal, to prevent Palestinians from infiltrating to carry out attacks.

Palestinians denounce the barrier as a land grab cutting deep into the territory they seek for an independent state.

Israel has rerouted the barrier several times in response to high court rulings and appeals from human rights groups that the Palestinians are cut off from vital farmland or services.

In this case, the military favoured the change because it transpired that the route was to accommodate plans to expand a Jewish settlement, rather than for security needs, Haaretz said.


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