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Israeli court urges reroute of wall around Battir

Dec. 13, 2012 8:10 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 15, 2012 8:19 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israel's highest court has urged defense officials to reroute a wall planned for construction on ancient farmland at a West Bank Palestinian village.

Israeli judges have ordered changes in Israel's wall through occupied land before, but the latest decision followed a rare appeal involving support from an Israeli government environmental agency for a Palestinian challenge.

In their ruling on Thursday, judges wrote that only a 500-meter long section of the wall was under dispute at the village of Battir, known for its terraced agricultural fields, some of which are believed go back to biblical times.

"In light of the unique character of the region in question, it would be worthy for security officials to do some more thinking especially about what type of divider and security arrangements to employ in the problematic section," the justices wrote.

The court gave the Defense Ministry a 90-day deadline to respond. Appellants in the case will have 15 days after that to react.

Battir is inside territory Israel captured in a 1967 war that Palestinians seek for a state. Villagers say the wall would irreversibly disrupt agriculture in their community.

Shaul Goldstein, director of the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority that backed the petition, said on Wednesday his group did "not object to putting up obstacles to stop terrorists, it's just that we believe here that other methods can be used".

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the Israeli wall, made of razor-wire fencing and huge cement blocks, was illegal.

Israeli army colonel Ofer Hindi, representing the state in the Battir case, argued for the security benefits of the planned section by saying that two villagers were jailed in 2008 for planning to bomb a railway that runs by Battir.
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