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Last Updated: Monday, 20 October, 2003, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Israel to speed up barrier work
Israel's security fence
Israel says the fence is to stop attacks from the West Bank
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has promised to speed up building the controversial security barrier separating Israel from Palestinian areas in the West Bank.

Opening the new session of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, Mr Sharon said the fence, including the areas around Jerusalem, would be finished in a year.

"This fence is the best way of foiling terrorism," he said, adding that the internationally criticised wall "was not a political border".

Fighting to make himself heard above the heckling of the MPs, Mr Sharon spoke of a breakthrough in the peace efforts in the coming months, without specifying.

But at the same time, Israeli forces would continue to confront Palestinian "terrorism", the prime minister said, hours after a series of Israeli air strikes on Gaza City left at least three Palestinians dead and 24 others wounded.

House hit in Shajaiya: at least 14 wounded
Car destroyed in city centre: 3 dead, 10 wounded
Building hit near Shajaiya: no casualties
The BBC's James Rodgers in Gaza says the attacks appear to be another attempt by Israel to strike at those it believes are planning attacks on Israeli targets.

The military wing of the Palestinian radical group Hamas issued a statement warning Israel that the retaliation would hit hard.

With diplomatic moves to end the conflict currently at a standstill both sides are increasingly relying on bombs and bullets to make their point, our correspondent says.

Other points in Mr Sharon's speech:

  • Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat remained the "greatest obstacle to peace" and Israel stood by its decision to "remove" him.

  • "There must be no deviation from the roadmap," Mr Sharon said. "Any deviation will relieve the Palestinians of the responsibilities they took upon themselves... to uproot terrorism. Any deviation will only encourage terrorist organisations."

Gaza strikes

Crowds gathered for the funerals of the three men vowed revenge and professed their loyalty to Hamas and to Islam as Israeli aircraft roared through the skies over Gaza City as they had for much of the day.

The three strikes came in the space of less than four hours.

Guide to the route and structure of the West Bank barrier

At 0800 local time (0600 GMT), Israeli F-16 fighter planes struck in Shajaiya neighbourhood, east of the Gaza City centre.

A two-storey building - said to belong to a family with close links to Hamas - was destroyed.

Palestinian rescue workers said at least 14 people - including two children - were injured in what Israel described as "a Hamas workshop" used to manufacture rockets and other weaponry.

Three hours later two missiles were fired on a white Peugeot lorry as it was travelling through the centre of Gaza.

Two bodies were removed from the wrecked lorry, and Hamas sources were later quoted as saying the dead were members of the Hamas military wing. A bystander was killed and seven people injured.

The third strike took place an hour later, when helicopters attacked a farmhouse in a field north or Shajaiya. There were no casualties.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei condemned the strikes, saying they made it harder for Israel and the Palestinians to hold talks on ending violence.

This man [Yasser Arafat] is the greatest obstacle to peace
Ariel Sharon
Israeli Prime Minister
The Israeli military action comes a day after three Israeli soldiers were killed in an ambush near the West Bank town of Ramallah - an attack claimed by the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade.

Also on Sunday, mortars were fired from Gaza into southern Israel - no casualties were reported.

The leaders of all the main Palestinian militant groups have been in hiding since the attempts by Israel on their lives.

The BBC's James Reynolds reports from Jerusalem
"He [Israeli PM Ariel Sharon] warned that Israel would continue to target its enemies"

Israel and the Palestinians



Palestinian women sit on a roof top of the home of a Palestinian family in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on 20 November 2006. Human shields
Palestinians adopt a new tactic to deter Israeli attacks, but this is a high-risk strategy





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