80 local Palestinian families to drive on Hebron-Kiryat Arba road.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
An intensive lobbying effort by settlers and right-wing parliamentarians failed on Sunday when the IDF partially reopened to Palestinian traffic a road known as the Zion Route, which links the back end of Kiryat Arba with the Cave of the Patriarchs in the Israeli-controlled section of Hebron.
"It is a mistake," said MK Ze'ev Elkin (Likud), who heads a subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that deals with Judea and Samaria.
Last week, members of the subcommittee toured the Zion Route and appealed to the army, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to allow Palestinian cars on the road, to prevent terrorist attacks.
"I am sorry the defense minister decided not to follow our suggestions," Elkin told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. He said he only hoped the move would not lead to the murder of Israeli citizens.
The Zion Route was closed to Palestinian cars in 2001, in response to drive-by shootings by Palestinians.
On July 12, 2001, David Cohen, 31, from Betar Illit, and Yehezkel Mualem, 49, from Kiryat Arba, were fatally shot on the route in separate incidents, said David Wilder, spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron.
The government reopened the route on Sunday, partially as a gesture to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and partially in response to a petition to the High Court of Justice filed by Palestinians who live along the road and the Hebron Municipality.
In mid-July the state told the High Court it would reopen the route to cars owned by the 80 Palestinian families who live alongside it.
On Sunday, the prime minister told the cabinet he supported easing restrictions on Palestinians to promote "economic peace."
"Parallel to the diplomatic process, Israel will continue to advance economic peace with the Palestinian Authority by dismantling barriers to traffic, business and tourism. Whoever will be with us in peace - will prosper. I believe that these things have already been recognized during the short months of this government," Netanyahu said.
The Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip criticized this policy, particularly as it applies to the Zion Route.
The government was ignoring bloody incidents that had occurred along the route, in favor of easing life for the few Palestinian who live there, the council said in a statement.
The government's top priority should be the safety of its citizens, the council said.
Sarit Michaeli of the B'Tselem NGO welcomed the move as an important "first step," even though only a small number of drivers will benefit from it.
But, she warned, "it is nowhere near enough to bring life back into the Old City of Hebron, which is a ghost town" because of IDF restrictions on Palestinian movement.
"The Zion Route is only one example of a whole of range of roads that are off limits to Palestinians in Hebron," said Michaeli.
The army has promised new security measures will be put in place along the road to ensure the security of the Jewish residents.
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