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Israel separation barrier to be ready in south by year's end

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Jerusalem (dpa) - The southern section of the separation barrier Israel is building along the West Bank should be ready by the end of the year, Israel's Deputy Defence Minister said Wednesday.

Most of the infrastructure in the area was already in place and the work was progressing apace, Ze'ev Boim told Israel Radio.

The head of Israel's National Security Council, Giora Eiland, said completion of the barrier in the Jerusalem area was receiving priority and delays were due not to poor planning, but to legal processes, which needed to be expedited.

Israel decided to build the controversial barrier in the summer of 2002, after a unprecedented spate of suicide bombings in its cities, launched from the West Bank.

The barrier, which consists mainly of a highly sophisticated fence, except in some prominent urban areas where it is constructed of cement, has come in for harsh criticism since in some locations it snakes deep into the West Bank, leading to charges that it is less a security measure than an Israeli land grab.

The International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled in July last year that the barrier was illegal and had to be dismantled in those area where it was constructed on occupied territory.

Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz suggested Wednesday that the route of the barrier near the central West Bank settlement of Ariel be changed, so as to remove several Palestinian villages from within its boundaries, in order to hasten legal approval of the route.

Mofaz made the proposal during a meeting Premier Ariel Sharon held with security officials to receive a progress report on the barrier.

The officials said construction was delayed in four sections of the barrier, including the one surrounding Jerusalem, due to several pending petitions that had been filed with the High Court. dpa jab ms

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