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Israeli military preparing for removal of West Bank checkpoints


08:39, July 19, 2013

JERUSALEM, July 18 (Xinhua) -- The Israeli military is gearing up for removing checkpoints in the West Bank ahead of the much- anticipated resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Army Radio reported Thursday.

Removal of the barriers is among a number of goodwill gestures that the Israeli government has been contemplating to assist U.S.- led efforts to revive the peace process.

A major checkpoint near Beit Hagai, a settlement south of Hebron, is slated for removal, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is examining alternate security measures that would allow it to take down other checkpoints, Army Radio quoted a security source as saying.

The IDF's comment on the report was not immediately available.

Jewish settlers, in meetings with senior army officers in recent weeks, have voiced objections to the planned removal of the checkpoints that were mainly set up to defend their communities.

"We don't know where the next terrorist attack will come from, particularly in this instance," Tzvika Bar Chai, head of the southern Hebron Hills Regional Council, said of the possible removal of the checkpoint near Beit Hagai, where several attacks carried out by militants over the years have resulted in Israeli fatalities.

"There is no justification for opening this checkpoint, which was put up here at the time due to security concerns," he told Army Radio.

Plans to remove the checkpoints are also expected to meet fierce resistance from hardline members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, who oppose any goodwill gestures to the Palestinians, including the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, the chairman of the ultra- nationalist HaBayit HaYehudi party, a key coalition partner, said "I've never given anyone anything just for the right to hold negotiations. Whoever wants to talk is welcome to do so, but I'm not handing out free gifts."

However, Regional Cooperation Minister Silvan Shalom, a member of the ruling Likud party, told Army Radio on Thursday that gestures had always been regarded "a possibility" within the framework of efforts to revive peace talks.

"If the defense establishment assesses that it won't harm security, then of course we have the possibility to carry out these steps," he said.

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