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Sharon Presses on with Security Fence - 2003-09-30

Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is pressing ahead with plans to build a West Bank security fence that includes major Jewish settlements, despite U.S. objections.

Mr. Sharon says the next phase of the barrier, which is meant to prevent Palestinian attackers from entering Israel, should also protect at least two Jewish settlements.

They are the large community of Ariel, near the Palestinian city of Nablus in the north of the West Bank, and a smaller one known as Kedumim.

The Palestinians oppose the barrier outright, describing it as an apartheid wall. The U.S. administration also objects to the fence, particularly if it includes Jewish settlements and because of its likely impact on ordinary Palestinians.

Mr. Sharon says he is willing to discuss the issue further with U.S. officials if the matter turns into a serious dispute.

But Israeli cabinet minister Uzi Landau says that while the government values its relationship with the United States, the project must go ahead.

"When it comes to the very basic physical security of our citizens, it is the Israeli government that must make the decision, and show the commitment to our people, with all the respect to our American friends," he said.

Mr. Landau is a member of Mr. Sharon's ruling Likud Party, which met to discuss its position on the route of the security fence.

Mr. Sharon's cabinet is to meet Wednesday to approve plans for another section of the barrier.

The fence eventually will stretch for hundreds of kilometers and will vary in different sections, from trenches and razor wire to concrete walls.

The Palestinian leadership claims that Israel intends to use the fence to seize more land in the West Bank and unilaterally determine the boundaries of a future Palestinian state. Israel denies that the fence is intended to mark a political border and argues that it can be removed later, if a lasting peace is reached with the Palestinians.