JERUSALEM – There has been an increase in the number of Israeli-imposed restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank over the past eight months, according to a UN report.
An additional 41 checkpoints and other physical limitations on movement in the territory have been registered since September 2007, an increase to 607 such obstacles, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated in its May Closure Update.
During the reporting period to April 2008 some 103 obstacles were removed but 144 were added.
However, the number of "flying" or random checkpoints fell when compared with the previous eight months.
"The issue is not just the number of roadblocks, but also the quality and the other factors which block movement as well," said Allegra Pacheco, deputy head of OCHA in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt).
"For example, the Israeli military removed al-Fahs checkpoint, though just one, [the checkpoint was] significantly [affecting] a major trade route for Palestinians in the southern West Bank," Pacheco said.
As part of the renewed peace process, announced last November, Israel pledged to ease the restrictions.
"The government of Israel is committed to taking down checkpoints to try to create greater movement and access for the Palestinians. Simultaneously, we have an obligation to protect our civilian population from terror attacks," Mark Regev, the spokesman for the Prime Minister’s office, told IRIN.
"Our challenge is to find the right balance. We are willing to take calculated risks," Regev said.
Accessing key arteries within the West Bank remains a problem and some major roads are off limits to most Palestinians. Also, Israel continues to restrict access for most Palestinians to East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and areas between the barrier and the Green Line – the internationally recognised border of Israel and the Palestinian territory.
In April, the Israeli government announced it had removed 61 obstacles in the West Bank, though OCHA said that only 44 had been taken away and 11 had never existed. Of the 44, only five were deemed to be significant, leaving the agency to conclude that the move had "little or no impact on movement and access in the West Bank".
Furthermore, there was an increase in the number and duration of curfews in the northern West Bank and in general in that region there was an overall deterioration in access.
"The curfews could not be fully imposed without the roadblocks and other existing mechanism for restricting movement," said Pacheco.