Israeli troops on Sunday began demolishing a huge concrete wall erected nine years ago to prevent shooting attacks towards Gilo, a Jewish neighbourhood in occupied east Jerusalem.

Soldiers wearing construction helmets began removing the towering slabs from one of the streets, lowering them onto a truck, an AFP correspondent said, at the start of an operation likely to take a fortnight.

The two-metre-high (6.5-foot) concrete barrier was set up in 2001 along several streets on the southernmost edge of Gilo, which sits just across the valley from the Palestinian village of Beit Jala in the West Bank.

During the second intifada, gunmen in Beit Jala would take pot shots at their Jewish neighbours, prompting Israel to erect several hundred metres of protective concrete along the length of at least four streets and to install bullet-proof glass in all the homes there.

Mortar shells were also fired from Beit Jala towards Gilo during the early years of the intifada.

The wall was soon covered with paintings and brightly-coloured murals and quickly became one of the landmark images of the second Palestinian uprising which erupted in late 2000.

It was also a precursor of the huge separation barrier that Israel has nearly completed and which cuts through the West Bank -- a section of which now runs along the northern edge of Beit Jala.

The military said the wall was being razed as a result of the long spate of calm prevailing in the area.

"As a result of the stable security situation in the area, the Israel Defence Forces, in coordination with the Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli police, will begin dismantling the protective concrete structure used to defend civilians from sniping," it said in a statement.

Gilo, with its 30,000 inhabitants, is one of a belt of neighbourhoods making up "Greater Jerusalem," which have been built by Israel to reinforce its hold over the eastern sector of the city, which was occupied and annexed after the 1967 Middle East war.

In another sign of the calm, the military has over the past two months agreed to allow Israeli tour guides to operate in the West Bank cities of Bethlehem and Jericho for the first time in a decade.

The Western-backed Palestinian Authority welcomed the relaxation of regulations, saying it proved it has succeeded in improving security in the territory under its control.