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Sharon Approves 110 km Fence to Divide Israel, West Bank - 2002-06-05

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has approved construction of a fence between Israel and the West Bank to help stop Palestinian militants from crossing into the Jewish state.

Israeli officials say the fence will run about 110 kilometers from a point northeast of Tel Aviv to south of the port city of Haifa, running roughly parallel to the Mediterranean Sea.

For most of the distance the fence will run along the currently unmarked frontier, known as the Green Line, that separates Israel from the West Bank.

At some points along Israel's narrow coastal strip the country is only about 15 kilometers wide.

The fence is meant to separate the Palestinian-ruled towns of Jenin, Tulkarm and Qalqilya from nearby Israeli cities.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Sharon, Rannan Gissin, says the fence "is part of a series of measures to stop suicide bombers from getting into Israel."

Palestinian Authority chief cartographer, Khalil Tufakji, says before Israel captured the West Bank during the 1967 Middle East war, there was a fence along the entire area, which was then ruled by Jordan.

Mr. Tufakji says the new barrier will follow the old line, but at some points will veer into the West Bank, meaning the appropriation of at least 77 square kilometers of occupied land.

He says 11 Palestinian villages will end up on the Israeli side of the barrier.

In interim peace accords, both sides decided that the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state would be determined by negotiations.

Peace talks, however, have ground to a halt after more than 20 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Mr. Sharon reportedly was reluctant to approve construction of the fence because many of his supporters, including Jewish settlers in the West Bank, see it as a first step in giving up parts of the Palestinian territories, which they claim for security and religious reasons.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who drafted the barrier plan, says he opposes any unilateral decision about borders.

He supports building a fence along the entire frontier and maintaining an Israeli military presence in parts of the West Bank until both sides negotiate a permanent peace agreement.

The fence reportedly will take about one year to build and will cost about $1 million per kilometer.