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Israeli Cabinet Approves Extension of Security Barrier - 2003-10-01

The Israeli cabinet has approved an extension of its controversial security barrier in the West Bank, despite international criticism that the project cuts deep into Palestinian territory.

The cabinet approved the next phase of the project by an 18-4 majority after several hours of debate.

The decision came amid protests by the Palestinian leadership that Israel is attempting to use the barrier to seize more land in the West Bank.

Israel says its decision is an attempt to balance the competing interests of its citizens who say the barrier is necessary to prevent Palestinian terror attacks and the U.S. administration, which is concerned the fence could harm international peace efforts.

Under the plan, Israel has decided to build a separate fence around the large Jewish settlement of Ariel in the north of the West Bank.

Israel wants to eventually join this fence with the main barrier, hoping that Washington will give its consent to the project later.

In the meantime, Israeli soldiers are to patrol the gap between the main barrier and the fence to be erected near Ariel.

Israel's deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, says that Ariel must be protected but in a way that the government hopes will not antagonize the U.S. administration.

He says the issue will be discussed with Washington and a final decision on the matter will be made in the middle of next year.

Israel also decided to erect walls around several other Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership reacted angrily to the Cabinet decision. Palestinian officials say that the decision to continue building a fence in the West Bank will harm prospects for the founding a future independent Palestinian state.

Israel says the fence does not constitute a political boundary and can be removed later if a lasting peace agreement can be reached with the Palestinians.