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Israeli PM Acknowledges Security Barrier May Have to be Altered - 2004-01-19

Israel's prime minister is acknowledging the route of a controversial security barrier Israel is building in the West Bank may have to be altered because of the hardships it is causing to Palestinians. The government is discussing the barrier as it prepares to defend the project against legal challenges in local and international courts.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the barrier has already succeeded in preventing terror attacks, but concedes the project has also, in his words, caused "damage to the Palestinians' quality of life."

In a statement, issued after a meeting with his inner Cabinet Sunday, Mr. Sharon raised the possibility that the route of the barrier could be changed due to humanitarian concerns.

Among those present at the discussions was Israel's justice minister, Tommy Lapid. Before the meeting, he said the planned course of the barrier must be altered because of international and domestic concerns. "I have proposed a change of the fence, and I think that we should change the fence for humanitarian reasons and for political reasons, because the fence, as it goes now, is unacceptable to the world, and it is unacceptable to the majority of Israeli citizens," he said.

Not all Israeli Cabinet Ministers agree with his position.

Among them is Israel's defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, who told Sunday's meeting he opposes any alteration in the route of the barrier.

But Mr. Sharon says that other factors must be taken into account, including advice from the government's top legal officer, Acting Attorney-General Edna Arbel.

Mrs. Arbel has advised that the State of Israel will have trouble defending its position, because sections of the barrier are being built inside the West Bank, rather than along its border.

The government is preparing to face legal challenges to the project, first at a hearing this month in Israel's High Court of Justice.

The International Court of Justice at The Hague is also scheduled next month to begin deliberations on a petition from the U.N. General Assembly against the project.