Sharon orders changes in security fence

Special to World
Wednesday, January 21, 2004

JERUSALEM Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ordered changes in the route of the security fence and barrier along and through the West Bank.

Israeli officials said Sharon plans to appoint a panel to review the route of the fence and recommend changes that would avoid legal problems in the Israeli High Court and the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Officials said Sharon intends to maintain the fence largely along, rather in, the West Bank.

The changes were urged by Justice Minister Yosef Lapid and State Prosecutor Edna Arbel ahead of a High Court hearing on the fence on Tuesday.

Sharon's decision to revise the route of the fence has been opposed by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

"We must not keep the fence along the 1967 border because this would mean that we have given up the idea of security buffer areas," Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said. "This would be a political concession."

Officials said Sharon would convene a military committee as early as Tuesday to propose revisions of the security fence. They said Sharon has rejected appeals from several advisers and ministers to ignore the hearing by the international court.

Last year, the Sharon government approved a $1.9 billion project for a 730-kilometer security fence and barrier that would encompass at least two blocs of Israeli communities in the West Bank. One proposal submitted to Sharon was for the government to reduce the length of the fence to 500 kilometers and limit the project to along the old 1967 border with Jordan.

The first phase of the project has been completed, officials said. They said that this phase which runs north from Kfar Salem to near the Israeli city of Rosh HaAyin has remained along the 1967 border.

During a hearing of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday, Sharon said Jordan was leading the international campaign to prosecute Israel for the security fence. The prime minister, in a rare warning to the neighboring kingdom, said Jordan would have a lot to lose in any confrontation with Israel. Sharon did not elaborate.

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