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Analysis: Israeli Government Constructing A Security Fence to Stop Militants From Entering Its Territory

Morning Edition: June 17, 2002

Israel Wall

BOB EDWARDS, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Bob Edwards.

A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up today near a group of Israeli police patrolling Israel's border with the West Bank. He was the only casualty. The attack came one day after Israel began building a fence designed to stop Palestinian attackers from entering Israel from the West Bank. Israeli officials say the fence will provide more security to Israeli citizens, but it is opposed by both hard-liners in Israel and by Palestinians. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

An Israeli police spokesman said border police saw the bomber approaching them near an Israeli-Arab village on the border with the West Bank and ordered him to halt. He then detonated the explosives, killing himself and damaging the police Jeep, but not injuring any of the Israeli policemen. Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer today said

Israel has information on five suicide bombers on route to Israel. It was not clear if the bomber today was one of them.

Police say they believe he infiltrated from the West Bank near where Israeli bulldozers began leveling land for the first section of what Israeli officials were calling a security fence. Ben-Eliezer denied that the decision to start building the fence had political implications.

Mr. BINYAMIN BEN-ELIEZER (Defense Department, Israel): The terror attack, which have been haunting Israel and particularly the suicide bombing, has obligated us to build a continuous obstacle in order to stop the infiltration of the terrorists in Israel.

GRADSTEIN: Palestinian officials insist the fence is political and argue it will make their lives even more difficult. Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian Authority has appealed to the United Nations to hold an urgent discussion on the security fence.

Mr. SAEB EREKAT (Palestinian Cabinet): I believe this is Sharon's way of introducing his plan, his long-term interim solution. He wants to fragment the West Bank into eight cantons, linked with bridges or tunnels. They got 74 cantons. Palestinians will end up having 42 percent of the land. Sharon will (unintelligible) the settlement activities in the remaining 60 percent or so of the land. And he will say this is a long-term interim solution now.

GRADSTEIN: Erekat said any solution must be reached through negotiations and not through an Israeli dictate.

Israeli hard-liners also oppose the fence. At Sunday's Cabinet meeting, Cabinet Minister Efia Tom(ph) sharply criticized the government saying Israel is laying the foundation for a Palestinian state. He also said that 200,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank will be isolated on the other side of the fence.

Mr. EFIA TOM (Israeli Cabinet): (Foreign language spoken)

GRADSTEIN: `Israel should build fences around each of the six Palestinian cities where the terrorists come from,' he said. The fence runs close to Israel's 1967 border with the West Bank, although at times veers into the West Bank to include some Jewish settlements inside the fence. Israeli officials say the fence will be electronically monitored and soldiers will be able to detect any attempted infiltration. The first stage of the plan runs along the northern section of the West Bank where Israeli officials say dozens of suicide bombers have infiltrated into Israel. In contrast, they say, no suicide bombers have come from Gaza, which has a fence.

Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Prime Minister Sharon, says the government came under heavy pressure from the Israeli public to build the fence. He says there are no magic solutions to the problem of Palestinian attackers.

Mr. ZALMAN SHOVAL (Adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon): This day and age, with mortar shells and Katyushas and things like that, the question is how effective a fence will actually be. But it might be partly effective and that's already something which is worthwhile.

GRADSTEIN: The Israeli construction of the fence comes as both Israeli and Palestinian officials are anxiously awaiting an expected speech by President Bush that could include a call for a transitional or provisional Palestinian state. Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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