U.S. to dock Israeli aid for cost of security fence

Friday, November 7, 2003

The United States has deemed that Israel's security fence does not protect the Jewish state and plans to impose sanctions in connection with the project.

U.S. officials said a State Department team that examined the fence has dismissed the Israeli argument that the fence is required to protect the country from surface-to-missile attacks against civilian airliners that land and take off from Ben-Gurion Airport.

Israel plans to establish a fence that penetrates up to 20 kilometers within the West Bank as part of a plan to protect against shoulder-fired missiles by Palestinian insurgents, Middle East Newsline reported.

But the U.S. team determined that Israel could protect against SAM attack without the construction of the fence and barrier system. The team cited unmanned air vehicles and ground forces patrols that do not restrict the movement of 15,000 Palestinians from villages that will be surrounded by the proposed fence.

Officials said the determination of the U.S. team has led to a State Department decision to deduct funds from the $9 billion in loan guarantees approved by the Bush administration. The amount of the funds has not been determined, officials said, but could exceed $1 billion.

A decision was expected over the next week during the visit by Israeli Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, officials said. They said the administration could deduct $1.4 billion from the loan guarantees in connection with Israeli settlement activities that do not include the security fence.

"The president doesn't really believe there needs to be a fence, and number two, if they want to talk about a fence, they should do it in a way that does not infringe upon the lives of the Palestinian people or try in some way to prejudge the outcome of a final status agreement," State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said on Tuesday. "We have made the decision to deduct money for guaranteeing loans based on Israeli settlement activity, but the precise amount of that deduction has not been determined yet."

Israel has completed about one-third of an estimated 600-kilometer security fence. The United States has voiced objections to the proposed route of the barrier from the West Bank city of Kalkilya east past the Israeli communities of Ariel and Emanuel and then south.

Officials said the administration has relayed to Congress the U.S. decision to deduct funds from the loan guarantees. They said the issue of the fence will be raised during the visit by Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to Washington next week.

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