The final route of Israel's separation barrier around Jerusalem will encompass large areas claimed by the Palestinians, including their intended capital and the biggest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Israeli officials confirmed Monday.
The route would also place a holy site in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem on the Israeli side of the barrier, while leaving a Palestinian refugee camp in Jerusalem encircled by a separate fence, the officials said.
Also Monday, Israeli and Palestinian Cabinet ministers agreed again on a handover of the West Bank town of Jericho to Palestinian security control. Earlier agreements fell through over details about roadblocks.
Israeli officials told several news agencies the handover is set for Wednesday, to be followed two or three days later by Tulkarem, then Qalqiliya. Two other towns are to be transferred to Palestinian control as well -- Bethlehem and Ramallah -- but those were not agreed on at the meeting Monday between Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yousef and Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.
Israel began building the barrier in the West Bank two years ago, saying it was needed to keep out Palestinian attackers. Palestinians say the structure, which dips into the West Bank, is an attempt by Israel to impose a border without waiting for a peace deal.
The section around Jerusalem is especially sensitive. The Palestinians hope to establish their capital in east Jerusalem, a traditional Arab commercial, religious and social center. Israel, which captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war, claims all the city as its capital.
In the plan, the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim, which lies five miles east of Jerusalem, would be on the Israeli side of the barrier, Israeli officials said. About 30,000 Israelis live in Maaleh Adumim, the largest Jewish settlement.
The Palestinian refugee camp of Shuafat, which straddles the Jerusalem municipal boundary, will remain on the Israeli side of the barrier. It will be encircled by a separate fence, with a crossing into the city.
In Bethlehem, the barrier will divide Rachel's Tomb, a Jewish shrine, from the rest of the city. Already, concrete slabs have virtually cut off Bethlehem from Jerusalem.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published, broadcast or redistributed in any manner.