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Sunday, 16 June, 2002, 21:21 GMT 22:21 UK
Israel fences off West Bank towns
Security guard with bulldozers starting work on the fence
The fence will be electrified, reports say
Israel has begun building a controversial new security fence to try to stop Palestinian militants crossing into its territory.

It is the latest effort by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to halt the wave of suicide attacks in Israeli cities and towns.

The move has angered Palestinians, who accuse Israel of seizing more of their land, and also Jewish settlers who oppose any boundary between Israel and territory it occupied in the 1967 war.

In the latest violence Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian at a checkpoint near the West Bank town of Nablus.

Israeli tanks are also reported to have moved back into Jenin, on the West Bank, after nightfall on Sunday.

Bulldozers began digging up ground at a ceremony attended by Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer.

The fence "will provide a defensive answer to the... infiltration of terrorists," said Amos Yaron of the Israeli Defence Ministry.

Few details of its exact route have been revealed.

The first phase of the plan is reported to involve 110 kilometres (70 miles) of 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.

Israeli support

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

They argue that many of the suicide bombers from towns such as Jenin would have been thwarted had the government reacted more quickly to protect its citizens.

The BBC's Barbara Plett, in Jerusalem, says Palestinians are afraid the barrier will tighten the net around their territory and deal a death blow to their struggling economy.

They say Palestinian land has been taken for the project.

The fence would also separate the West Bank from east Jerusalem, which Palestinians want to be the capital of their future state.

Posts mark line of security fence
The line of the fence is controversial

Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat accused Israel of seeking to divide Palestinian territories into small cantons and "start a new apartheid system which is worse than what happened in South Africa".

Jewish settlers living in the West Bank say the fence will not protect them, and they are afraid it will become a permanent border with a future Palestinian state.

Many fear it is the beginning of Israel's abandonment of the thousands of settlers who have moved there over the past 30 years.

Cabinet minister Yitzhak Levy, whose National Religious Party supports the settlers, says the fence is "political", creating a de facto border.

There has also been criticism from the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Maher, who said Israel's security would be better served by building peace.

A similar fence was built along the Gaza Strip some time ago.

Another death

Palestinian witnesses and security officials said that about five Israeli tanks rolled into Jenin late on Sunday, firing at unknown targets.

The army said troops had moved into an area near Jenin after being fired upon.

There was more violence on Sunday when a Palestinian was shot dead near the town of Nablus on the West Bank.

The Israeli army says it opened fire on the man when he refused to stop after being caught trying to cross a checkpoint without permission.

On Saturday, two Israeli soldiers were killed and four others injured in an attack near the Jewish settlement of Dugit in the northern Gaza Strip.

A Palestinian attacker was also shot dead in the ensuing gun battle.

In the US, President George W Bush and his policy advisers are continuing to work on a new statement to halt the violence in the region, which is expected to be unveiled next week.

The White House has acknowledged Mr Bush is mulling the creation of a provisional state to exist alongside Israel.

The BBC's Jim Fish
"Opinion polls say 80% or more of Israelis see this as the most effective way of protecting them"
Michel Massih, Palestinian lawyer
"This is depriving Palestinians of their basic rights of freedom"

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16 Jun 02 | Media reports
15 Jun 02 | Middle East
14 Jun 02 | Middle East
13 Jun 02 | Middle East
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