JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel inaugurated a new highway in the occupied West Bank on Thursday that features a large concrete wall segregating Israeli and Palestinian traffic.
One side of Route 4370 — located northeast of Jerusalem — will be open to Israeli vehicles only, while the other half will only be open to Palestinian traffic. Critics have branded it an "apartheid" highway, saying it is part of a segregated road system that benefits Jewish settlers.
The highway was built as part of a planned ring road east of Jerusalem that would connect the northern and southern West Bank. Construction began in 2005, but the 5-kilometer (3-mile) road lay unfinished for years until 2017.
Israeli officials inaugurating the new road on Wednesday touted it as a means of better connecting West Bank settlements north of Jerusalem to the city.
Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called the highway "an example of the ability to create coexistence between Israelis and Palestinian while guarding (against) the existing security challenges."
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The Palestinian Authority said in a statement that the "apartheid" road "poses a challenge to the credibility of the international community."
"It's a shame on the international community to see an apartheid regime being established and deepened without doing anything to stop it," the statement said.
Israel captured east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want to be part of their future state. The Palestinians and most of the international community consider Israeli settlements to be illegal and an obstacle to peace.
The eastern ring road was conceived as a means of connecting the northern and southern West Bank. Critics of the settlements fear that if the road is completed, Israel will then proceed with settlement construction in an area east of Jerusalem known as E1.
The Palestinians have long feared that construction in E1 would split the West Bank in half, making a future state inviable. With the road completed, Israel could argue that the territory was still contiguous.
Development in E1 has been largely frozen under U.S. pressure, even as Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank has boomed under the Trump administration.
Betty Herschman, a spokeswoman for the Ir Amim activist organization, said that "we can only speculate" concerning the timing of the highway's opening after years of dormancy, "but what we do know is that because of the relationship to E1, we should all be on high alert as to what this indicates."
In a separate development earlier Thursday, an Israeli court sentenced a Palestinian man to 18 years in prison for stabbing a British student to death in Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem district court accepted a plea bargain in sentencing 60-year-old Jamil Tamimi. He killed 20-year-old British student Hannah Bladon on the Jerusalem light rail in April 2017, stabbing her multiple times before an off-duty policeman pulled the emergency brake and subdued him.
Tamimi's defense team claimed he suffered from mental illness, and the attack was not ideologically or politically motivated.
Bladon was an exchange student at Hebrew University from the University of Birmingham.
Maurice Hirsch, her family's representative, said he was disappointed her killer would not be serving a life sentence for his crime. But he added "no sentence would have been able to return Hannah."
Meanwhile, in Ramallah, Israeli military forces raided stores, homes and coffee shops near the Palestinian prime minister's office in search of security camera footage.
An Associated Press reporter witnessed troops blocking the main road in front of the Council of Ministers building, where hundreds of Palestinians hurled stones at them. The forces responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Israeli forces were seen raiding a jewelry shop at the Caesar Hotel and copied the footage in front of reporters.
The Israeli military has been raiding buildings in Ramallah for the past several days after an Israeli bus came under attack on a main road of the nearby Beit El settlement.
Palestinian security sources say they were informed by Israel that troops were searching for security camera footage of the shooter
Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed.