Thu, Oct 02, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Security barrier seen as land grab

SETTLEMENTS Palestinian officials want the US to put pressure on Israel after its Cabinet approved a plan to extend a security barrier deep into the West Bank

AP , JERUSALEM

A Palestinian teenager walks past newly placed concrete barricades in Sawahreh village near Jerusalem yesterday. Israel says it is building the wall to keep suicide bombers out of its cities but Palestinians say it causes hardship to ordinary Palestinians.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Israel's Cabinet yesterday approved an extension of a security barrier that would swing around Jewish settlements deep in the West Bank, but would have large gaps for now to address US concerns, Israeli media said.

A barrier would be built east of Ariel -- with 18,000 residents the second largest settlement in the West Bank -- but would not immediately be connected to the main security fence which runs further west, closer to Israel.

Palestinian officials demanded that the US stop the construction.

``This [the barrier] is a deliberate attempt by the Israeli government to sabotage President [George W.] Bush's vision of a two-state solution, to undermine the peace process and to destroy the road map [peace plan],'' said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

The US wants the barrier to run close to the Green Line, the frontier between Israel and the West Bank before the 1967 Mideast war. The Bush administration has said it might deduct some of the construction cost for the barrier from US$9 billion in US loan guarantees to Israel. However, on Tuesday the US State Department said it had no immediate plans to cut the guarantees.

In other developments yesterday, the incoming Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, said he has reached agreement on the formation of a Cabinet and would present it to parliament on Sunday and Monday. Qureia would not discuss the size and composition of his new government.

In the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, Israeli commandos arrested Bassam Saadi, a senior leader of Islamic Jihad. A witness said Saadi was hiding under a parked car when he was seized.

The Israeli Cabinet voted 18 to 4, with one abstention, yesterday on the next segments of the security barrier.

About one-fourth of the barrier has already been built in the northern West Bank. In some parts, it runs close to Israel. However, in other areas, the barrier dips further into the West Bank, isolating several Palestinian villages and cutting residents off from their land.

The most contested issue in planning the next segment was whether the barrier would incorporate Ariel. Including Ariel on the ``Israeli'' side would mean the barrier will cut deep into areas the Palestinians claim for a future state.

The Cabinet approved a compromise backed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who hopes to appease both the US and his hardline constituents.

Under the plan, the barrier would run east of Ariel, but would not be connected for now to the main security fence running further to the west, closer to Israel. The open sections would be patrolled by soldiers.

``Certainly it [the barrier] has to pass east of Ariel, but in a manner that will not antagonize the [Palestinian] population of the territories and will be in coordination with the agreements we have with the US government,'' Vice Premier Ehud Olmert said before entering the Cabinet meeting.

The Palestinians charge that Israel is grabbing land and unilaterally drawing a border that should be determined in future peace talks.

Sharon initially opposed construction of the barrier because it would leave tens of thousands of Jewish settlers on the other side, but has relented under growing public pressure following scores of suicide attacks by Palestinian militants.

Israel faces heavy opposition to the Ariel section from the US which fears the barrier will create facts on the ground and pre-empt peace talks.

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