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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Arafat denounces 'racist' fence
Security guard with bulldozers starting work on the fence
The fence will be electrified, reports say
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has condemned as "racist" Israel's construction of a security fence along its border with the West Bank.

Instead of ending military occupation and dismantling settlements, Israel builds a wall and practices terrorism and racism

Amr Moussa, Arab League Secretary General
"It is a sinful assault on our land, an act of racism and apartheid which we totally reject," Mr Arafat told reporters while visiting schools in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The controversial fence is the latest effort by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to halt suicide attacks by Palestinian militants inside Israel.

The head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, also criticised the security fence.

A year ago there weren't two suicide bombers trying to reach Israel every day. Our problem today is how to stop this wave of suicide bombers

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Israeli defence minister

"It reminds us of practices that the world never accepted before and aims to consecrate the occupation and separate communities," Mr Moussa said.

US 'orders' dismissed

Mr Arafat also angrily rejected comments by US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, in which she said his Palestinian Authority was "corrupt and cavorts with terror".

Yasser Arafat
Arafat has reacted angrily to US criticism
"She does not have the right to put or impose orders on us about what to do or not to do," Mr Arafat said.

"We are doing what we see as good for our people and we do not accept any orders from anyone."

Ms Rice, who was speaking to a Californian newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, said a Palestinian state should not be based on Mr Arafat's administration.

Mr Arafat has come under intense Israeli and US pressure to halt suicide attacks by Palestinian militants, which have killed about 240 Israelis in the past 21 months.

Fence roll-out

The Israeli Defence Minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, told Israeli Army Radio that up to a kilometre of fence is expected to be installed daily in the first 115 km (75-mile) stage of the project.

Planning is due to start within a week or two on extending the fence north and south from its initial deployment to a total of about 350 km (215 miles), he said.

Palestinians accuse Israel of seizing more of their land.

Parts of the fence veer off the Green Line, drawing in some Jewish settlements close to the border.

But Jewish settlers also oppose any boundary between Israel and territory it occupied in the 1967 war.

They fear that the fence can be seen as implicit recognition that the West Bank is politically separate from Israel and may in the future form part of a Palestinian state.

The first phase of the plan is reported to involve trenches and electric fencing separating the towns of Jenin, Tulkarm and Qalqilya from Israeli cities.

Jenin, a stronghold of Palestinian militants, is where the Israeli army says more than 20 suicide bombers have come from over the past 20 months of renewed conflict.

Reports say the fence will be electrified and will have devices to detect any movement on it.

Such fences are already used in the Gaza Strip to protect settlements near to Palestinian population centres.

Opinion polls show at least 80% of Israelis are in favour of the fence.

The BBC's Jim Fish in Jerusalem
"Yasser Arafat says this is a new form of Israeli apartheid"
The BBC's Barbara Plett
"The fence has raised questions about where Israel ends and the West Bank begins"

Key stories




See also:

17 Jun 02 | Middle East
16 Jun 02 | Media reports
15 Jun 02 | Middle East
14 Jun 02 | Middle East
13 Jun 02 | Middle East
09 Jun 02 | Middle East
05 Jun 02 | Middle East
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