Israel sprays protesters with tear gas at separation barrier in West Bank
BEIT JALA (Palestinian Territories) - Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and stun grenades on Sunday to disperse a protest in a Palestinian Christian town near Bethlehem against renewed work on Israel's West Bank separation barrier.
Dozens of Palestinian and foreign protesters marched in the West Bank village of Beit Jala towards an area where military bulldozers have uprooted olive trees to clear space for the barrier.
Two protesters were arrested for allegedly throwing stones at soldiers guarding the construction zone, police said.
The former Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, denounced the work that began earlier this month.
"This land belongs to us," he said.
"Whatever they do, whatever their courts say, this land belongs to us and it will return to us one day. You are stronger with your guns, but you are not the strongest when it comes to humanity."
Israel began building the barrier of walls and fences inside the occupied West Bank in 2002 at the height of the second Palestinian intifada (uprising), saying it was crucial for security.
The Palestinians see it as a land grab aimed at stealing part of their future state and call it the "apartheid wall".
UN figures show that around two-thirds of the barrier is so far complete.
The network of towering concrete walls, barbed-wire fences, trenches and closed military roads will extend 712 kilometres (442 miles) when finished, separating the West Bank from Israel, 85 percent of its length running through Palestinian land.
One of the most iconic symbols of the occupation, it will cut off more than nine percent of Palestinian territory in the West Bank and Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, in places separating farmers from their fields or villagers from water sources, the UN says.
Where it approaches Beit Jala and the adjacent Cremisan Valley there has been fierce opposition from the local Palestinian Christian community, which has enlisted papal support.
The case grabbed special attention when the wall was slated to separate Cremisan monastery from the neighbouring convent and vineyards.
Israel's High Court ruled in April that the work must stop and told the government to consider alternative routes.
But in a new decision on July 6, the court said work could go ahead, ruling that the previous ban referred only to an area of a few hundred metres (yards) alongside the monastery and the convent.