Wafa Amr
September 29, 2008 - 8:00pm

Closure of the West Bank for the Jewish New Year placed further restrictions on the movement of Palestinians marking the end of Ramadan on Tuesday.

Despite pledges to ease travel restrictions, Israel has increased the number of roadblocks and checkpoints over the last six months in the occupied West Bank, according to a United Nations report made public this week.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the Israeli army erected 19 new "obstacles" since April, raising the total to 630, including 93 checkpoints controlled by soldiers.

Israel has been under international pressure to ease travel restrictions that can turn 20-minute car journeys into trips taking hours, and in some cases make them impossible.

Israel says controls are necessary to prevent Arab suicide bombers from reaching its cities. The Palestinians say the restrictions stifle their economy and breach their right of freedom of movement.

Israel on Monday imposed a three-day closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the Jewish New Year, which this year coincides with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, making the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Palestinians complain that it prevents them visiting relatives in various parts of the West Bank, including Arab East Jerusalem, lands Israel occupied after the 1967 Middle East war.


The U.N report said almost three quarters of the main roads leading to the 18 largest cities and towns of the West Bank are either blocked or controlled by the Israeli army.

"This figure represents a net increase of three percent, or 19 obstacles...This total does not include 69 obstacles located in the Israeli-controlled section of Hebron city," it said.

The U.N. agency said a policy Israel implemented for the past eight years as a short-term cure for violent confrontations and attacks on Israeli civilians appears to be developing into a permanent system "which is fragmenting the West Bank territory". Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Monday that Israel should withdraw from nearly all of the West Bank in return for peace with the Palestinians.

Palestinian officials welcomed Olmert's comments and said he went further in his offers than any previous Israeli leader, especially on Jerusalem.

Negotiations launched by U.S. President George Bush last November to thrash out a two-state solution to the festering conflict have shown little sign of progress and both sides say chances are slim of a deal by the end of the year.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017