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Israeli Foreign Minister Defends Security Fence - 2003-09-24

Israel's foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, says Israel's security fence in the West Bank should also encompass Jewish settlements. His remarks came ahead of meetings on the issue Wednesday with top U.S. officials in Washington.

Mr. Shalom told Israel radio that the security barrier now being built in the West Bank should, in his words, defend as many Jewish settlers in the territory as possible.

He was speaking ahead of talks on Wednesday in Washington with National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Both Ms. Rice and Mr. Powell have voiced concerns over the fence project, including its likely impact on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, in particular farmers who could lose access to their fields.

The U.S. administration also objects to a proposal to root the fence in such a way that it would effectively seal off Ariel, a large Jewish settlement in the north of the West Bank.

Mr. Shalom conceded that U.S. officials, in his words, "do not back the route that we would like." He added, however, that did not mean the position of the U.S. administration would be the one that is finally accepted.

Israel Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz added his voice to the debate during a tour of the fence project outside Jerusalem. He rejected claims that the fence will one day become a permanent political border between Israelis and Palestinians. According to Mr. Mofaz, this barrier is intended to protect Israelis from terror attacks and can be taken down later if there is a resolution of the conflict. "The security fence is for the security of the people of Israel. It is only a security fence and can be removed if we decide so," he said.

Mr. Shalom said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will need to bring the issue to the cabinet, possibly next week. The cabinet will discuss alternative routes for the barrier.