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Roadblock Forces Palestinian Detour

March 13, 2001

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ Men in suits and ties, clutching briefcases, slipped and slid. Women juggling bags of vegetables tripped and fell. Together, they struggled down a steep rock face to get around an Israeli roadblock.

The Israelis said they imposed a tight closure on Ramallah, cutting all roads in and out of the town, to prevent a terror attack. But for ordinary Palestinians traveling to and from the next village, it meant a half-mile detour through rocky paths and olive groves requiring techniques that would not be lost on mountain climbers.

It used to be a quick car ride from Ramallah to the village of Surda, three miles to the north. Now that the Israeli military has dug a deep trench across it, people have to climb down from the road into a valley and back up the steep hillside toward the village.

Balancing Abdullah, her one-year-old baby, on her hip, Adla Mahmoud, 30, wobbled as she made her way down the hill, refusing offers of help.

``He needs a vaccination, and I needed to buy him more baby food,″ she said, explaining why she was hiking into Ramallah, often stumbling and stopping to catch her breath.

Walking behind her was Firas Yassin, 27, a chemistry teacher at a Ramallah high school. Yassin said the situation breeds discontent among Palestinians.

``This kind of siege can only lead to an explosion,″ he said, his briefcase in one hand. ``Kindness and sympathy are leaving us.″

Mariam Riyad, 40, said the closure destroyed any hope she had for a peaceful resolution to more than five months of violence.

``They’re making life harder for us,″ she said. ``This is humiliating. They are trying to kill our spirit.″

The blockade was reinforced on Sunday with tanks, trenches and ramparts cutting off all access to Ramallah, a town of about 50,000 people.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denied that the restrictions were part of a tougher policy toward the Palestinians. He said the army had imposed the tight closure in response to specific warnings about a Ramallah terror cell planning a car bomb attack in Jerusalem.

During a march led by Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo and legislator Hanan Ashrawi on Monday, protesters tried to knock down one of the roadblocks with a bulldozer. Israeli soldiers opened fire, killing one of the demonstrators.

Continued closures will only provoke and anger Palestinians, said Marwan Barghouti, the West Bank head of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement.

``This is the real face of Sharon,″ he said. ``This will not help the Israelis. They only want to punish the Palestinians _ it’s part of this collective punishment.″

Several Palestinian-American teen-agers were caught in the roadblock drama. Their baseball caps perched fashionably backward on their heads, with baggy pants and shirts emblazoned with U.S. logos, they looked like typical American youths but said they felt the anger of their Palestinian roots.

Muntasar Hussein, 17, whose family moved here from Orlando, Fla., several years ago, called for pressure on the Israeli government to lift the restrictions.

``The rest of the world should see what’s going on,″ he said. ``Look at how they’re treating us.″

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