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Israel to Press Ahead With Security Fence Around West Bank - 2003-07-27

Israel is to press ahead with the construction of a security fence around the West Bank despite pressure from the United States for changes to the plan. The decision comes as Israel's prime minister heads to Washington.

Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, said that the planned contours of the security fence to encircle the West Bank will not be altered. He made the pledge during a meeting of cabinet ministers from his ruling Likud Party on Sunday, shortly before departing for Washington. Mr. Sharon reaffirmed this position in a separate meeting with his defense minister, Shaul Mofaz.

The two men agreed that the outline of the fence would remain the same but construction of the barrier would concentrate for the moment on what Israeli officials described as "less problematic" sections. The officials said this meant that the planned building of the fence around some major Jewish settlements would be put off until a later date.

Mr. Sharon's policy stance on the issue comes ahead of his scheduled meeting at the White House on Tuesday with President Bush.

On Friday, Mr. Bush described Israel's West Bank security fence as a "problem" in a joint appearance with Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas. Following their meeting, Mr. Bush said it is difficult to develop confidence between Israelis and Palestinians with a "wall snaking through the West Bank." Mr. Bush said he had already discussed the issue with Mr. Sharon and intended to raise the matter again with the Israeli leader.

The Palestinian leadership is opposed to the security fence, saying Israel plans to use the barrier to effectively annex more territory in the West Bank, including areas where Jewish settlements have been built.

Israel denies the claim saying that the fence does not constitute a political border and is only being erected to prevent Palestinian terrorists from crossing into the Jewish State to carry out more deadly attacks.