BILIN, West Bank, June 24 (Ismail Khader/Reuters) - Palestinian protesters rammed a bulldozer on Friday into a contested barrier
near the village of Bilin, days after the Israeli army said it would finally comply with a court order and reposition the fence.
Israeli soldiers fired volleys of tear gas and jets of foul-smelling liquid to force the flag-waving demonstrators away from the metal fencing that keeps locals from their land.
Bilin, which lies about 25 km (15 miles) east of Tel Aviv, has become the focal point of protests against the controversial Israeli network of walls and fences that separates much of the occupied West Bank from Israel.
The Israeli military tore down a watchtower overlooking Bilin on Wednesday and said they were ready to dismantle part of the fence, four years after the high court ruled it should be re-routed to give Palestinians greater access to farmland.
Palestinian leaders and activists descended on Bilin on Friday to celebrate the decision, but said the protests would continue because much of the land remained inaccessible.
What the village of Bilin has got back because of the changing of the course of the wall represents less than half of the lands that were confiscated, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad
told Reuters television.
This represents a backing down, and therefore this event has an important meaning ... but this can only end with the ending of the occupation along with its injustice, its settlements and walls, he said after attending midday prayers.
Israel has built a concrete wall several hundred metres back from the fence, which will take the place of the old barrier. But the original metal fence still stands and a few dozen protesters tried to tear it down using a yellow bulldozer.
The Palestinians, including one man in a wheelchair, made their way along a dirt track amidst olive trees and used a bulldozer to rip up a metal gate before being forced back by
The cabin of the bulldozer was thick with tear gas as the driver struggled to retreat.
Israel started building its barrier, which is a mix of metal fencing, barbed wire and concrete walls, in 2002 following a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.
The Israeli government calls it a security fence and says it is vital to protect Israeli lives. The Palestinians refer to it as an apartheid wall and say it amounts to a land grab, swallowing up swathes of ancestral farmland.
The World Court in The Hague said in 2004 that the proposed 720-km (430-mile) barrier was illegal.
At Bilin, the barrier curves 3 km (2 miles) inside the Green Line, established by a 1949 ceasefire, which divides Israel and the West Bank. It does so to ensure nearby Jewish settlements
lie on the Israeli side of the barrier.
(Additional reporting by Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh; writing by Crispian Balmer; editing by Robert Woodward)