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Israeli court suspends barrier work

JERUSALEM -- The Israeli Supreme Court yesterday ordered a one-week halt to construction at a section of the West Bank security barrier where soldiers shot dead two Palestinians during a violent protest last week.

Under intense international pressure, including last week's highly publicized hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague about the legality of the barrier, Israeli officials already had pledged to change the planned route of the barrier to ease hardships on Palestinians.

The Israeli court issued an order yesterday to suspend work on a section of the barrier being built near Jerusalem while the military considers alternate routes.

Also yesterday, two Palestinian militants were killed in West Bank clashes with Israeli forces. Soldiers entered the Balata refugee camp next to the city of Nablus and traded fire with militants, killing Mohammed Zuheir Oweis, 23, Palestinians said.

Oweis was a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent group linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

A few hours later, during Oweis's funeral, another clash erupted, and a second Palestinian, Iyad Abu Shalal, was killed. Security officials said he was involved in a December ambush that wounded seven Jewish worshipers returning from an unauthorized visit to a holy site in Nablus.

At another funeral procession, this one in Gaza City, militants threatened to hit back at Israel as they buried three Palestinians killed in an Israeli missile strike Saturday night near the sprawling Jebaliya refugee camp. Two of the three were prominent in Islamic Jihad, and their coffins were covered with flags from the militant group. The third, a supporter of the group, was a cousin of one of the militants.

"We promise Sharon that our retaliation is coming soon," said a masked militant, referring to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel.

At the Israeli Supreme Court yesterday morning, Palestinian and Israeli opponents of Israel's West Bank barrier won a temporary victory. In its order stopping work on a section northeast of Jerusalem, scene of the first deaths in protests of the barrier, the court ordered the military to grant hearings to the residents, Israel Radio reported.

On Thursday, protesters tried to stop bulldozers from flattening land for the barrier on the West Bank side of the boundary with Israel, opposite a Jewish suburb. Israeli soldiers opened fire, killing two Palestinians and wounding more than a dozen.

According to present plans, the barrier is to run 400 miles around and in the West Bank, carving out large chunks that would remain under Israeli control and isolating many Palestinian towns and villages. The Haaretz daily newspaper reported yesterday that Israel has told the United States it would make further changes in the route, canceling some fingers extending into the West Bank to protect Jewish settlements and eliminating some double fences that would trap thousands of Palestinians.

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