Israeli plan for 100-mile fence along West Bank

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The Independent Online
The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, yesterday supported a plan to build a fence around the West Bank to stop suicide bombers entering Israel. He said: "It can't be done overnight. It will take a month or two of preparation." Israeli press r eportssay the barrier, over 100 miles long, would cost 700m shekels (£150m) and take a year to complete.

Such a fence, still the subject of bitter debate within the Israeli government, would give a physical form to Mr Rabin's declared intention to separate Israelis from Palestinians. It is also a measure of his desperation to reassure Israelis that he can prevent a another bomb blast like that which killed 19 Israelis at Beit Lid last Sunday.

A new military line, bulging out from Israel proper to take in settlements west of Nablus and around Jerusalem, would pre-empt negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the final status of the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Critics of the plan say it would provide only a spurious sense of security for Israelis since the line would be impossible to defend and, if pushed forward to protect settlements, would leave over a million Palestinians on the Israeli side of a new frontier.

Uri Dromi, the government spokesman, says there may be a new security system rather than a barrier: "The two populations will be separated but not necessarily by a fence." Instead there will be more troops, electronic surveillance, arrests, harsher interrogation and tighter control on the movement of Palestinians.

The problem for Mr Rabin is that most of this has been tried before and he badly needs a visible success like the arrest of those behind Beit Lid and, in particular of Abu Ayash, the so-called "engineer", who is believed to have built several of the mostdevastating bombs.

Mr Dromi says that, after all, a suicide bomber "needs logistics, high explosives, training and reconnaissance. Somebody planned the operation at Beit Lid. The most important thing for us is intelligence."