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Israel Approves Construction of Barrier Around Jerusalem

Israel has approved construction of its controversial security barrier around Jerusalem.

Israel's Cabinet decided that construction of the separation barrier around Jerusalem will be accelerated. Israel began erecting the controversial barrier two-years ago to keep Palestinian suicide bombers out, but legal obstacles and bureaucracy have slowed construction. Now the government means business: Planners have until September first to complete preparations.

Mark Luria, from an Israeli lobbying group, called "Security Fence for Israel," says it's about time.

"As long as there are any breaks in the security fence surrounding Jerusalem, all of Jerusalem is at risk, indeed all of Israel is at risk," he said. "I think the most important thing right now is to finish the fence as soon as possible, and to make this whole area secure."

Palestinians are furious because the barrier cuts off the West Bank from East Jerusalem, which they want as the capital of a future state. Four Arab neighborhoods will be outside the barrier, separating 55,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from jobs, schools and hospitals.

Jerusalem resident Rim Abu Snein told VOA that she will be on the wrong side of the barrier.

"I think the wall is a very, very bad thing for the Palestinian people," said Rim Abu Snein. "You know, they put all the Palestinian people in big prison."

With prospects for a final peace agreement looking dim, the barrier is part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to unilaterally redraw Israel's borders. Next month, he will pull settlers and soldiers out of heavily-populated Gaza, and in the future, the West Bank barrier will extend for 700 kilometers. The aim is to build a strong Jewish majority within Israel's borders.