The heads of Catholic churches in the Holy Land are condemning the route of Israel's security barrier near Bethlehem, saying it affects the livelihood of Christian families there.

The churches said in a statement that the barrier would affect the lives of 58 families who live off the land.

Israel began building the barrier last decade saying it was meant to keep out Palestinian attackers who crossed from the West Bank into Israel and blew themselves up among civilians. The barrier juts into some areas belonging to Palestinians who condemn it as a land grab.

An Israeli defense ministry official said the route will include entry points and large agricultural gates to enable access to the land on both sides of the fence. He said compensation will be paid to Palestinian land owners.