Israel has issued orders to seize Palestinian-owned land to build a section of its separation barrier around the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, the Justice Ministry said Wednesday.
Palestinians condemned the construction of the barrier around Maaleh Adumim and accused Israel of quietly issuing the land-confiscation order while the world's attention was focused on the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Israel says the barrier is needed to keep suicide bombers from entering the country. The Palestinians accuse Israel of effectively imposing a border that will swallow up chunks of territory they claim for a future independent state.
When complete, the 680-kilometer (425-mile) complex of walls, electric fences, trenches and barbed wire is expected to include about 8 percent of the West Bank.
Amos Gil, executive director of Ir Amim, an Israeli settlement monitoring group, said the Maaleh Adumim confiscation would seize about 60 square kilometers (23 square miles) of land.
Attorney General Meni Mazuz approved the order after a legal review, the Justice Ministry said.
The orders were posted on Monday in part of the territory to be seized a desert area inhabited mostly by Bedouin Arab farmers, Gil said. More expropriation orders are expected to be issued in the coming days or weeks, he added. Gil could not say how many land owners were affected by the confiscation.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has repeatedly said his withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank will cement Israel's hold on large West Bank settlement blocs, including Maaleh Adumim. About 30,000 people live in the settlement, located on the outskirts of Jerusalem, reports the AP.