The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported that the Israeli government will go ahead with its plan to extend the illegal barrier wall in the southern part of the West Bank despite Palestinian objections and possible American consternation.
Seeking to appease his Likud hardliners opposed to the planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Sharon has apparently endorsed a new route for the wall that would take tens of thousands of acres of Palestinian land and convert a number of small Arab towns and villages in the Hebron region into virtual ghettos.
According to Israeli media sources, the new route will reduce Palestinian towns such as Surif and Nahalin and several other surrounding villages into virtual detention camps.
Inhabitants in the area will not be able to leave their towns except through so-called security gates manned by Israeli soldiers. The gates would be open only during certain times of the day.
Moreover, thousands of Palestinians from the Bethlehem and Hebron regions would lose their land and farms due to the wall.
Abd Allah Abd Allah, director-general of the Palestinian foreign ministry, said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans to annex Jewish settlements in the heartland of the West Bank were a "clear provocation aimed at thwarting efforts to end the violence".
Bethlehem would be isolated
from its neighbour Hebron
Speaking to Aljazeera.net on Sunday, shortly after Israeli soldiers killed a 65-year-old Palestinian civilian in Rafah in southern Gaza, Abd Allah said the Israeli decision to move the route of the gigantic wall deep into the West Bank in the southern Bethlehem and northern Hebron regions would kill peace efforts.
"It would mean cutting Hebron from Bethlehem and turning both into separate Bantustans surrounded by Jewish-only settlements," he said.
Abd Allah said the Palestinian Authority (PA) would urge the Bush administration and the European Union to pressure Israel to stop "mutilating our homeland".
Avoid harming Palestinians
An Israeli spokesperson told Aljazeera.net the new route was consistent with a ruling by the Israeli High Court issued last year.
Israel's court ruling on the wall
contradicts the court of justice
"The government is trying as much as possible to avoid harming the Palestinians in accordance with the High Court decision," said Amira Oron at the Israeli foreign ministry.
However, this ruling was incompatible with a verdict by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in early July 2004, which declared the wall was illegal as it was built on occupied territory.
Israel, which has routinely ignored UN resolutions pertaining to the Arab-Israeli conflict, rejected the ICJ ruling, arguing that Israel considered the West Bank disputed rather than occupied territory. Provocations
The Israeli decision to unilaterally and illegally seize more Palestinian land in the West Bank is only one of many measures the Sharon government has taken since the new Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas was elected on 9 January.
Palestinian property in Jerusalem
is also to be confiscated
Earlier this month, the Israeli government revealed it had taken a secret decision several months earlier which allowed for the confiscation of property and land on the "Israeli side of Jerusalem" that is owned by Palestinians living on that side of the wall.
According to the decision, Palestinian proprietors owning real estate or land in Jerusalem but living outside the city, even a few metres away on the other side of the separation wall, are considered absentees.
This means their property can be seized without compensation and automatically passed on to the ownership of the Jewish Agency for the exclusive benefit of Jews.
Last week, the Israeli government took another decision requiring the estimated 300,000 Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem to obtain a special permit from the Israeli domestic intelligence service, the Shin Beth, in order to travel outside Jerusalem.
The decision affects only non-Jews since Jewish settlers living in the West Bank travel freely from their settlements to Israel proper and vice versa.
Israeli observers say openly the decision is aimed at getting as many non-Jews as possible to leave Jerusalem.