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Israel begins to tear down wall on edge of settlement

The Israeli military yesterday began removing part of an eight-year-old concrete wall which once protected an Israeli settlement from gunfire, citing sharply improved security as the reason.

The Palestinian Authority pointed out that the move, which does not affect the much longer 450-mile separation barrier, will have no impact on the lives of local Palestinians.

But it has been seized on as making the case for a wholesale easing of restrictions on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Army engineers removed sections of a three-metre-high blast wall alongside the Gilo settlement on the southern edge of Jerusalem in an operation which will continue over the next fortnight.

Israel Defence Forces spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said |yesterday that this was the first time “we have moved such a structure from a neighbourhood that was hit by sniper fire and shells”.

But Ghassan Khatib, spokes-man for the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, said: “They are not easing anything in practical terms. The only significance is an acknowledgement of the security situation. We are disappointed that when they acknow- ledge improvements in security they are not lifting the restrictions on Palestinians.”

US presidential envoy and former Ulster peace broker George Mitchell has been conducting intensive negotiations on a formula to bring Palestinian President Abbas to the negotiating table.

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