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Israel Builds Barrier in the Southern West Bank  - 2004-09-06

Israel has begun construction of its controversial security barrier in and around southern portions of the West Bank, following last week's twin suicide bus bombings in the nearby city of Beersheva.

Bulldozers have begun clearing areas along a stretch of land near the West Bank city of Hebron. Officials say it is part of a plan to build a security barrier running 30 kilometers between Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages in the area.

Defense Ministry officials deny the construction is linked to last week's suicide bombings in the nearby city of Beersheva. But, there was a significant public outcry following the attacks because the suicide bombers were able to infiltrate Beersheva from Hebron through an area where the barrier has not yet been built.

Israel began building the barrier two-years ago and plans to stretch this combination of concrete walls, razor wire fences, and trenches for more than 600-kilometers in and around the West Bank. The focus has been on areas in the north.

Officials say the barrier has been successful in keeping Palestinian militants from launching attacks from areas where the project has been completed.

Palestinians and human-rights groups argue that Israel is building the barrier not for security, but rather to grab as much Palestinian land as possible. They point to the route of the barrier, which runs far into the West Bank in some areas, taking Palestinian land and isolating Palestinian towns and villages in the process.

The southern Israeli city of Beersheva is located in the Negev Desert and seemed far removed from the usual scenes of Palestinian militant attacks. All that changed last week when two suicide bombers from Hebron blew themselves up on two Beersheva city buses, killing 16 people and injuring more than 80 others.