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Sunday, 16 September, 2001, 22:24 GMT 23:24 UK
Israel plans buffer zone
An Israeli soldier shouts at Palestinians
The crossing between Ramallah and Jerusalem is sporadically sealed
By Paul Wood in Jerusalem

As violence in the Middle East continues, the Israelis have dusted off an old plan to create a buffer zone sealing off Israel from Palestinian territory.

The Israeli army's chief of staff, General Shaul Mofaz, has said his forces are preparing to implement such a zone, with fences, watchtowers and trenches so that potential suicide bombers face a barrier they cannot breach.

This comes after the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, said that talks with the Palestinians could take place only after a 48-hour period of complete quiet.

In the early hours of Sunday, Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships went into the West Bank town of Ramallah after a shooting incident in which an Israeli motorist died.

Changing the rules

It is not clear if the buffer zone would seal off all territories, but the implications are nonetheless far reaching.

It will be guarded not by the border police but by soldiers with far wider rules of engagement.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Mr Arafat says he is committed to a ceasefire
Some members of the Israeli cabinet, including General Mofaz, have long wanted to declare the Palestinian Authority a terrorist entity.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, on Sunday that terrorism had to be fought wherever it was found, whether in the United States or in the Middle East.

Once again he blamed Yasser Arafat for the escalating violence.

None of this bodes well for American efforts to calm the situation here and neutralise the Palestinian issue as a source of anger throughout the Arab world.

The United States has requested new peace talks in the Middle East as part of its efforts to build a global coalition against terrorism including the Arab States.

The BBC's Barbara Plett
"[This decision] was held up mostly because of internal politics"
Ra'anan Gissin, senior advisor to Ariel Sharon
"We need to defend them; it is our responsibility"
Saeb Erekat, senior Palestinian negotiator
"Sharon is escalating the situation here"
See also:

16 Sep 01 | Middle East
Sharon calls off truce talks
15 Sep 01 | Middle East
Sharon scraps Mid-East talks
12 Sep 01 | Middle East
Arafat fears new Israeli attacks
10 Sep 01 | Middle East
Israel's shock at Israeli bomber
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