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Monday, 5 August, 2002, 12:37 GMT 13:37 UK
Slow progress on Israel security fence
Scene of Sunday's bus bombing
Residents believe a fence would stem the attacks
A much-publicised project by the Israeli Government to build a security fence along the West Bank has progressed only 40 metres in three months, local activists have said.

The fence - which in its first phase should stretch to 116 kilometres - is designed to stem the flow of suicide bombers and other Palestinian militants who have been carrying out attacks on Israel.

But Benny Segal, chief engineer working on the Gilboa regional council, said the government was dragging its feet for political reasons and at the current rate the fence would take "many years" to complete.

The Ministry of Defence, which is in charge of the project, rejects the criticism, saying that important planning work had to be taken care of before work on the ground could get going.

Cooling off

"At the moment it is absolute hell," Mr Segal told BBC News Online.

"The important thing is to separate everyone out and let the place cool down. It's too hot at the moment," he said.

He believes the fence could save many lives.

But, he says, progress has been hampered by internal disagreements within the government.

Work starts on the security barrier
Infrastructure work has begun but there is little fence to be seen
"I think there are certain elements in the government who want the fence and other elements who don't want the fence - I presume this is the problem," he said.

Right-wingers are concerned that the security fence could ultimately become a permanent border between Israel and the Palestinian territories - leaving many Jewish settlements beyond Israel's frontiers.

Ground-level activity

But the Ministry of Defence says even if there is little to be seen on the ground, it has been busy with preliminary work, including clearing any legal difficulties with the owners of the land being used.

"You have to work legally... so part of (the work) is not reflected on the spot," ministry spokeswoman Rachel Naidek-Ashkenazy told BBC News Online.

Mr Segal disputes this argument saying that, at least for the 25 km section which he is involved in planning, legal clearance for construction has already been given.

According to the ministry, a 36-metre section of pre-fabricated concrete has been tested on the ground, to check whether it will be suitable for the electronic sensors which will alert Israeli security forces of any attempt to climb over or cut the fence.

That section has been left in place, 10 km of infrastructure have been completed and 70 pieces of heavy machinery are already working on ground.

The ministry promises that with tenders awarded to seven contractors who are set to work simultaneously on different sub-sections of the fence, there will be more activity at ground-level soon.

"People will get into the area this week. By the end of August almost all sections will have people working there," said Ms Naidek-Ashkenazy.

And, she said, the ministry is working to ease the concerns of local residents, like Mr Segal.

"The people will be part of the process, we are keeping them up to date."

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