JERUSALEM - Israel has completed building half of its controversial West Bank separation barrier ahead of schedule, defence ministry sources said Friday.
Of the planned 670-kilometre (416-mile) route, 330 kilometres have been finished. Another 140 kilometres are in the process of completion and work on the rest has yet to start.
Multiple appeals to Israel's supreme court have delayed the construction of hundreds of kilometres of the barrier, particularly in the highly sensitive areas around occupied and annexed east Jerusalem.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), three quarters of the planned route eats into the West Bank and only 145 kilometres follows the Green Line that separates Israel from the territory.
Israel justifies the massive barrier of electric fencing, barbed wire and concrete wall by insisting the edifice is vital to stop potential attackers from infiltrating the country and settlements in the West Bank.
The Palestinians denounce the project as a cynical attempt to grab their land and undermine the viability of their promised state.
In 2004, the UN International Court of Justice in The Hague issued a non-binding ruling that parts of the barrier in the West Bank were illegal and should be demolished.
Started by the Ariel Sharon government, the barrier is one of the most expensive projects in modern Israeli history, costing some 3.2 billion dollars.
OCHA believes the construction will deprive the Palestinians of around 6,289 hectares (15,500 acres) of territory.
When the barrier is completed, around 49,400 Palestinians in 38 villages will remain stranded on the "Israeli side" of the barrier.
Another 230,000 Palestinians with residency rights in Jerusalem will find themselves stranded to the east of the construction, cut off from access to the city.