JERUSALEM – A new route for Israel's West Bank barrier (search) will bring it closer to the 1967 boundary, but the structure will still jut deep into the occupied territory in some areas, a Defense Ministry official said Thursday.
Nezah Mashiah, head of the barrier project in the Defense Ministry, told Israel Radio the new route would put the Jewish settlement bloc of Gush Etzion (search) on the "Israeli side" of the contentious barrier. Gush Etzion — home to 40,000 Israelis — is about 6 miles southeast of Jerusalem.
In fresh violence Thursday, an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at a Palestinian car in the Gaza Strip, killing two militants, Israeli military officials said.
Three other Palestinians were killed in separate incidents in Gaza and the West Bank.
Also, Palestinian militants in Gaza fired two homemade rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot, despite a six-week-old Israeli military operation meant to prevent such attacks. No one was injured.
Mashiah said the Defense Ministry's new map is meant to comply with an Israeli Supreme Court ruling last month, which found that a 20-mile section of the barrier near Jerusalem violated Palestinian rights and international law.
The Supreme Court said its ruling would apply to other sections of the 425-mile barrier. One-quarter of the structure has been built.
"Within the framework of changes following the Supreme Court decision, there is certainly movement in the direction of the Green Line," Mashiah said, referring to the Israel-West Bank boundary until the 1967 Mideast war.
The fate of two other large West Bank settlements — Maale Adumim and Ariel — has not been determined yet, Mashiah said.
On Thursday, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot quoted Dov Weisglass, a top adviser of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search), as telling a Wednesday meeting with Defense Ministry officials that there was "no choice but to relocate the fence to the Green Line."
The International Court of Justice (search) in The Hague, Netherlands, this month ruled in a nonbinding opinion that the entire barrier was illegal and that it should be torn down.
Israel says it will ignore that ruling and a U.N. General Assembly resolution calling on it to follow the court's decision.
In some areas the original route of the barrier cuts deep into the West Bank, blocking Palestinians from their farmlands, schools, workplaces and nearby towns and villages.
Palestinians charge that the barrier's route is meant to prevent them from establishing an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
Israel says the barrier is necessary to prevent militants from attacking its towns and cities.
The barrier is an integral part of Sharon's plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements by the end of September 2005. To get hard-line support in his Cabinet for the controversial plan, Sharon pledged to have it completed before the proposed withdrawal.
On Wednesday an Israeli lawyer said he had met with representatives of the Justice Ministry to discuss compensation plans for Israeli settlers willing to leave their Gaza and West Bank homes in enclaves slated for evacuation.
In the Israeli helicopter attack, one of the dead was identified as Amr Abu Suta, who Israel accused of involvement in the 1992 slaying of three Israeli soldiers in a Jewish settlement in Gaza.
The missiles hit the car as it was nearing the entrance of the Gaza town of Rafah, not far from the Egyptian border, Palestinian residents said.
Palestinian hospital officials identified the other man killed as Zaki Abu Rakha, 40, who, along with Abu Suta, belonged to the militant group Ahmed Abu Reish Brigade. The group, an extreme offshoot of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, took responsibility for a wave of kidnappings in Gaza last week.
Elsewhere, Israeli forces entered the Rafah refugee camp near the Gaza-Egypt border Thursday to look for arms-smuggling tunnels, the army said. Bulldozers destroyed at least 18 abandoned buildings the army said were used by militants to fire on Israeli forces.
Also in Gaza, two Palestinians were killed when an explosive device they were carrying blew up near the Khan Younis refugee camp, Israeli military sources said. Palestinian security sources said the Palestinians were killed by an Israeli tank shell, but the army denied the allegation.