(photo credit: IDF [file])
Roadblocks in the West Bank have proven their effectiveness and will not be removed in the near future, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday during a tour of IDF's Samaria Brigade. Nevertheless, Barak said, the defense establishment would work to ease restrictions on Palestinians and improve their lives in the territories.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Barak's comments were "very unfortunate."
"I don't think we can do anything about the economy or improvement of life or revival of institution-building" as long as the roadblocks remain, Erekat said.
Barak told a group of soldiers from the Golani Brigade, deployed near Nablus, that "the checkpoints have proven themselves, and without real daily control of the territory there is no way to conduct an effective battle against terrorism." Barak was accompanied on his visit by OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni and commander of the Judea and Samaria Brigade Brig.-Gen. Noam Tivon.
Barak confirmed that Israel had removed two checkpoints - one near Hebron and the other near the Judean Desert - out of the 16 large crossings, in addition to a number of temporary dirt roadblocks that were also recently lifted. "We may ease restrictions even more, here and there," he said.
But despite these efforts, Barak said that the majority of roadblocks would remain. The Palestinians recently complained that Barak posed a stumbling block to peace talks due to his opposition to remove more roadblocks in the West Bank, a move that could benefit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"We need to ensure the security of our citizens - here in the center and throughout the entire country," he said. "We are not going to stop overseeing the flow of traffic and our operations in these territories."
Barak also spoke to the soldiers about the terror attack on Friday during which two off-duty soldiers - David Rubin and Ahikam Amihai - were gunned down by Palestinian terrorists near Hebron, as well as a shooting attack last month in the West Bank in which Ido Zoldan was killed.
"Your main mission is to target Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine," he said. "There are too many terrorists with high motivation to perpetrate terror attacks. Without intelligence and control over the territory we will see more attacks like those that killed Zoldan, Amihai and Rubin."
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