Middle East

Israel group wants Jerusalem crossing to stay open

A Palestinian man crosses the Ras Khamis checkpoint in east Jerusalem amid reports on August 29, 2012 that Israel plans to close the key checkpoint that allows Palestinians from an east Jerusalem neighbourhood access to the city centre. (AFP PHOTO/AHMAD GHARABLI)

JERUSALEM: An Israeli human rights group on Wednesday protested against reported plans to close a key checkpoint that allows Palestinians from an east Jerusalem neighbourhood access to the city centre.

The Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) said in a statement that it had sent "an urgent plea" to Israeli authorities that the Ras Khamis checkpoint be retained, otherwise residents of the district would be cut off by the construction of Israel's massive "security barrier."

"The construction of the separation barrier in the area is expected to continue in the coming days. A tall wall will be put up where the checkpoint currently stands, obligating residents to pass into Jerusalem through the Shuafat refugee camp crossing," it said.

Israel says the barrier is needed to stop potential attackers from the West Bank infiltrating the Jewish state.

But at Ras Khamis the concrete and barbed-wire obstacle dips into the Jerusalem city limits, cutting off residents from their cultural and commercial centre in downtown east Jerusalem.

Dozens of Palestinians threw stones at police late on Wednesday in protest at the checkpoint closure plan, an AFP journalist said, after the mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, visited it and said prayers of protest would be held on Friday.

Left-leaning Israeli daily Haaretz said Ras Khamis was one only two passages into Israel for the 65,000 Palestinian residents of the Shuafat camp and that its closure would cause intolerable overcrowding at the main Shuafat crossing, two kilometres (1.2 miles) away.

It said Israel's High Court had ruled that the Shuafat crossing must be enlarged before Ras Khamis could be closed, but the ruling had not been implemented.

The defence ministry had no immediate response to an AFP request for comment.

Rights groups say that at Ras Khamis and a few other locations the barrier route threatens to leave tens of thousands of Palestinians with Israeli-issued Jerusalem residency permits in a sort of no-man's land where the city does not provide services but where the Palestinian Authority is barred from operating.

"The Ras Khamis neighbourhood is one of several Palestinian neighbourhoods located within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, but cut off from the rest of the city by the separation barrier," ACRI said.





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