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Israeli forces block construction of road in Al-Walaja, near Bethlehem

Aug. 20, 2008 2:28 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 20, 2008 2:28 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Israeli authorities on Wednesday blocked the construction of a road in the West Bank village of Al-Walaja on the grounds that the land is claimed by the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem.

The road leads to what is said to be the oldest olive tree in the world, an international tourist attraction.

Israeli border police and representatives of Interior Ministry raided the village, detained the bulldozer operator and threatened the other construction workers with arrest is they continue work on the road, said Sa'id Abu Ali Al-Walaja's agricultural charitable association.

The village's municipal council and the charitable association wanted to improve the route to the olive tree, Abu Ali said. The project was funded by the Italian government.

The Governor of Bethlehem, Salah At-Ta'mari, condemned the Israeli decision, saying that it reflects Israel's lack of desire for peace. Ta'amari noted that Israel has previously confiscated land in the village, part of a larger Israeli plan to consolidate control around what it claims as "greater Jerusalem."

At-Ta'mari urged the US and EU to end their "shy condemnations" of Israel's practices, saying that Palestinians are losing faith in the peace process due to events on the ground.

Al-Walaja lies on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Bethlehem, near the Green Line. Following its 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israel unilaterally expanded the boundaries of its Jerusalem municipality, swallowing East Jerusalem and a number of West Bank villages, including much of Al-Walaja. The international community does not recognize the Israeli claim to the area.

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