UPDATE: UN says Israel didn't remove checkpoints as claimed
Date: 03 / 06 / 2009 Time: 13:40
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The Atara checkpoint near
Bethlehem – Ma’an – United Nations officials found that Israel did not dismantle two West Bank military checkpoints as promised on Wednesday.
UN teams found that the Atara checkpoint in the village of Bir Zeit, on the main route between Ramallah and Nablus, was physically intact, including a concrete watchtower. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that they will re-classify the installation as a “partial checkpoint,” since the Israeli military has decided not to impose 24-hour checks.
The other checkpoint the Israeli military said it would remove is At-Tayba (referred to as Rimonim by the army), near the village of the same name. The physical apparatus of this roadblock, already classified as a partial checkpoint, was still place when an OCHA team visited on Wednesday.
The Israeli army also began work on Wednesday enlarging a third checkpoint, Enav, near the West Bank city of Tulkarem. Israeli forces closed the road and were seen adding lanes and physical infrastructure to the checkpoint.
OCHA earlier said it had received confirmation of the plan to remove the checkpoints from both the Israeli army and the Palestinian liaison office.
According to OCHA Israel maintains more than 700 military checkpoints, roadblocks, gates, fences, trenches, earth mounds, and other obstructions to Palestinian movement as a part of the occupation of the West Bank.
Sources in the Palestinian liaison department in Ramallah said that the Israelis informed them two days ago that both checkpoints would be removed as part of a purported attempt to ease Palestinian life.
The sources told Ma’an that Israeli authorities intend to keep a guard post in the area of Atara checkpoint.
These Palestinian sources welcomed any step towards easing Palestinian suffering, however they said what Israeli authorities did was insufficient as there are still dozens of military checkpoints across the West Bank.
Another Palestinian official source, who preferred not to be named, suspected the announcement was a media ploy. The source said it only came as attempt to influence in advance any US demands from Israel to ease pressure on the Palestinians.
The Israeli army said in a statement that the decision to “remove” the two checkpoints was taken following a meeting on Monday between the General Gadi Shamni Brigadier General Noam Tibon, Head of the Civil Administration Yoav Mordechai, and the Palestinian Authority’s civil affairs chief Hussein Ash-Sheikh.
A decision was also made during the meeting, the army said, to open the Asira Ash-Shamaliya checkpoint, north of Nablus, to traffic 24 hours a day.