Israel blocks WBank village over barrier protests

RAMALLAH, West Bank Sun Jul 6, 2008 10:42am IST

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli forces blockaded a Palestinian village on Saturday in what the army called an effort to curb protests against the construction of a West Bank barrier deemed illegal by the World Court.

Troops were encircling Ni'lin, near the Palestinian city of Ramallah, to prevent would-be foreign protesters from joining protests against the barrier, a network of razor-wire fences and concrete barricades that cuts into occupied West Bank land.

"The protests have been getting more violent, and that is what we're trying to stop," an Israeli army spokeswoman said.

The blockade involved declaring the construction site a "closed military zone," a sweeping measure that did not appear to provide access to the area for any peaceful demonstrators.

The military spokeswoman said soldiers stationed around Ni'lin could allow people through "in accordance with security considerations," though the closure was of indefinite duration.

Israel says the barrier is intended to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers. But it also loops around Jewish settlement blocs, cutting off some West Bank villages from swaths of farmland.

Construction sites are flashpoints for confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, who are often supported by left-wing protesters from Israel and abroad.

Ni'lin residents said the closure was imposed on Friday, which also saw a march against the barrier during which around 20 protesters were hurt by rubber bullets fired by Israeli security forces. Four protesters from an Israeli solidarity group were arrested, an organiser of the demonstration said.

Casualties and other patients were prevented from leaving the village for treatment, said Salah al-Khawaja, spokesman for the Ni'lin Committee for Resisting the Wall.

The military spokeswoman said security forces were attacked by hundreds of Palestinians who pelted them with rocks and rolled burning tyres at them, injuring a border policeman. She denied that the closure was affecting the movement of patients.

A demonstration was held on Saturday in defiance of the closure, with Ni'lin youths blockading roads used by bulldozers to access the construction site, residents said.

Israeli security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas, injuring at least seven people, residents said.

Security forces were "using means of riot dispersal" after coming under a hail of rocks, in which two policemen were injured, the military spokeswoman said.

Israel Radio said the closure would be reviewed by Tuesday.

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