Israel sets price tage on security fence: $1.66 billion

Special to World
Thursday, October 30, 2003

TEL AVIV Israel's Defense Ministry has determined a new price tag for the estimated 600-kilometer security fence along the West Bank -- $1.66 billion.

A Defense Ministry official, Moshe Lippel, told the Knesset Economic Committee that the security barrier and fence system to prevent insurgency infiltration from the West Bank would cost 7.5 billion shekels. Lippel said the ministry estimates that the project will be completed in 2006 and the Knesset would have to allocate the cost of the fence over the next two years.

The first two phases of the project were reported at 2 billion shekels. This covers the construction of the barrier from Gilboa to the area of Tulkarm.

Lippel said the new projected cost of the security fence would not include maintenance. The official said this would cost several million dollars per year.

The Defense Ministry official on Wednesday relayed a significantly higher cost for the security fence than previous assessments. As late as September, the ministry had assessed the security fence at 3.5 billion shekels.

The new price took into account a government decision on the route of the fence. The security barrier will move from Salem in the north, along the West Bank to Kalkilya and then move about 15 kilometers into the West Bank to encircle Israeli communities.

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The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has also expressed its intention to build a separate fence to protect Israeli communities in the Jordan Valley. But the Defense Ministry assessment of the cost of the project did not take this into account.

Several parliamentarians on the committee said they would oppose allocating funds to complete the project. They said the cost of the fence was affected by the government decision to encircle the Israeli city of Ariel and surrounding communities. The government has been mulling a proposal to issue a special tax to pay for the project.

Other parliamentarians complained that the government remains ambiguous over details of the security fence project. This includes a refusal to relay details of expenditures required for the fence.

The United States opposes the security fence project, particularly the penetration into the West Bank. The Bush administration has warned that it will deduct an undetermined percentage of the project from the $9 billion in U.S. loan guarantees approved earlier this year. The White House was also said to have increased pressure on Israel to stop construction of homes in Israeli communities in the West Bank.

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