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Sunday, 30 June, 2002, 19:23 GMT 20:23 UK
Israel starts building Jerusalem fence
Defence Minister Ben-Eliezer, centre, stands beside a map of the route of the Jerusalem security fence
Israeli officials believe the fence will block bombers
Israel has begun the construction in Jerusalem of a new electronic security fence that will eventually stretch 50 kilometres (30 miles).

The fence is intended to protect three sides of Jerusalem against Palestinian attacks from the West Bank.

A digger sorting debris in Hebron
In Hebron, the search for bodies continues
Also on Sunday, the army oversaw the evacuation of two tiny, unauthorized outposts for Jewish settlers in the southern West Bank.

Another eight outposts are expected to be uprooted on Monday, with another 10 to go by the middle of July.

Old plan

The Jerusalem security fence has been planned for some time, but the project was brought forward because of recent Palestinian Suicide attacks.

Reports say the fence covers the three sides of Jerusalem - north, south and east - that border the West Bank.

Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer attended a ceremony to launch the building work.

Bulldozers were already levelling a small hill to make way for the fence.

In places the fence will be 4.5 m (about 15 feet) high.

Its section for the northern and southern ends of the city will be completed within three months, defence ministry official Amos Yaron said.

The barrier along the east side of the city will be left for later, because it "is much more complicated" with many Palestinian neighbourhoods in the area, Mr Yaron said.

Outposts removed

The first two of 10 Jewish outposts in the West Bank were dismantled, in line with orders announced on Saturday by Mr Ben-Eliezer.

Palestinian women at an Israeli checkpoint
700,000 Palestinians are under curfew
The small communities, unauthorised by the Israeli Government, have grown up close to approved Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

About 200,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, although their settlements are illegal under international law.

The settlers - many of whom say they have a biblical right to the land - have condemned the defence minister's decision.

The Yesha Council of Jewish settlements described the decision as "reward and encouragement for terrorists".

Mr Ben-Eliezer has spearheaded the current Israeli military campaign which has seen the army take control of seven of the eight main towns in the West Bank, and confine more than 700,000 Palestinians to their homes in recent days.

The Israeli incursions, which have only spared Jericho, are in response for two devastating Palestinian suicide bomb attacks that killed 26 Israelis in Jerusalem over a week ago.

Israeli special forces on Sunday killed Muhammad Al-Taher, a leading Hamas militant in the West Bank city of Nablus, according to Israeli radio.

In Hebron, Israeli troops and bulldozers have continued searching through the rubble of the Palestinian Authority's local headquarters, which they blew up in two huge explosions on Friday night.

But more than 24 hours after the demolition, no trace had been found of 15 wanted Palestinian militants who were believed to be hiding inside.

Palestinian officials said the militants had escaped, while the Israelis indicated that their bodies might be buried in the rubble.

Labor dissent

A BBC correspondent in Jerusalem, Claire Marshall, says Mr Ben-Eliezer's motivation for removing the outposts now is unclear.

It could be a government crackdown, given their illegal status, or it could be an attempt by Mr Ben-Eliezer, who is leader of the traditionally left-of-centre Labor party, to appear as a moderate.

Analysts say there is a backlash brewing in the party against the current incursions in the West Bank.

Since Ariel Sharon was elected Israeli prime minister, about 44 of these outposts have been established.

The BBC's Claire Marshall
"The outposts are territorial markers"

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See also:

30 Jun 02 | Middle East
26 Jun 02 | Middle East
29 Jun 02 | Middle East
28 Jun 02 | Middle East
26 Jun 02 | Middle East
26 Jun 02 | Middle East
19 Jun 02 | Middle East
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