JERUSALEM -- Israel will change the route of its West Bank separation barrier to cause less hardship for the Palestinians and to gain US support against legal challenges, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel said yesterday.
The barrier faces two court fights. Israel's Supreme Court is to hear petitions today from two civil rights groups, including a request to declare the barrier's planned route illegal.
Later this month, the World Court in The Hague will review the legality of the barrier. The UN General Assembly, with the backing of the Palestinians, has asked the court for a nonbinding opinion.
Israel says the barrier is meant to block Palestinian suicide bombers, but the Palestinians condemn it as a land grab.
Israel has argued that the World Court has no authority over the barrier dispute, saying it should be resolved through negotiations. Nonetheless, it is taking the case before the International Court of Justice seriously.
Many countries, including the United States, agree with Israel that the international court is not the proper venue for the case, but they object to the barrier's planned route, which dips deep into the West Bank in some places.
Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Sharon, said Israel is concerned that the dispute could eventually reach the UN Security Council, where decisions are legally binding.
The United States, which can veto council resolutions, could help protect Israel. "We want as much as possible to draw a line with the Americans," he said.
He said the changes would be presented to US envoys to the Middle East who are expected to arrive in Israel this week.
The barrier, which is about one-quarter built, reaches deep into the West Bank in some areas, restricting Palestinian movement and preventing residents from reaching jobs, farmland, and social services.
Shoval said the changes in the route would be around Qalqilya, a West Bank town next to Israel. The town is largely circled by the barrier.
Israel wants to "make things as easy as possible for Palestinians who need to get to their fields [and] to have fewer checkpoints," Shoval said.
He said changes would be made around other Palestinian population centers as well. He said this could include taking down or moving concrete barriers that have already been built.
A Palestinian Cabinet minister, Jamal Shobaki, said the Palestinian Authority will oppose the barrier if it infringes "even one centimeter" on lands Palestinians want for a future state.
"If they want to build a wall, they must do it on the Green Line," Shobaki said, referring to the boundary that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. In some areas, Israel will move the barrier closer to the Green Line, he said.
"The starting point is not necessarily the Green Line. The starting point is really how to get the best security . . . and how to avoid making life difficult for those 50,000 Palestinians who find themselves . . . on the wrong side of the fence," he said.
Also yesterday, Israeli forces killed a fugitive from the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. The army said the man tried to escape from a window in the building he was hiding in.
In Gaza City, about 1,500 Palestinians attended the funeral of Aziz Shami, an Islamic Jihad leader killed in an Israeli missile strike Saturday. Hoisting black banners and Palestinian flags, scores of armed men from Islamic Jihad's military wing vowed revenge.
In Cairo, the Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, said he expects a long-delayed summit with Sharon before the end of the month. The meeting would be a critical step to restarting peace talks, which have been stalled for months.