JERUSALEM -- Israel is rerouting its West Bank barrier to move it closer to the 1967 prewar boundary, but it will still jut into the occupied territory to encircle major Jewish settlements, a Defense Ministry official said yesterday.
The disclosure by Nezah Mashiah, head of the barrier project in the Defense Ministry, was a sign that recent international and domestic challenges would not deter Israel from keeping Jewish settlement blocs on the "Israeli side" of the barrier.
The barrier is an integral part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan of "unilateral disengagement" from the Palestinians. The plan envisions an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements by late next year.
In Gaza yesterday, an Israeli missile strike on a Palestinian car killed two militants and sparked calls for revenge. Israel said the two belonged to the Ahmed Abu Reish Brigade, an extreme breakaway group from Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. The group took responsibility for a wave of kidnappings in Gaza last week.
One of the dead was identified as Amr Abu Suta, a militant leader whom Israel accused of involvement in the 1992 killing of three Israeli soldiers in a Jewish settlement in Gaza.
Sharon's response to nearly four years of Palestinian-Israeli violence has been to announce a pullout from Gaza and the construction of a 425-mile barrier between Israel and the West Bank.
The barrier project has faced stiff challenges in recent weeks. The Netherlands-based International Court of Justice and a UN General Assembly resolution called on Israel to tear down the wall, and the Israeli Supreme Court ordered a repositioning of a key section.
Israel says it will ignore the World Court ruling and the UN resolution. But the Defense Ministry has drawn up a new map for the barrier that heeds the Israeli Supreme Court's order to reduce hardships for Palestinians. The new route runs closer to Israel's pre-1967 border, known as the Green Line.
Mashiah told Israel Radio that the new route would be closer to the Green Line but said it would put the Jewish settlement bloc of Gush Etzion -- home to 40,000 Israelis -- on the "Israeli side" of the barrier. "Within the framework of changes following the Supreme Court decision, there is certainly movement in the direction of the Green Line," he said.
Mashiah stressed that the barrier would not run exactly along the Green Line, a cease-fire line from the 1948-49 war that followed Israel's creation.
Israel does not recognize it as a border.