Israel pushes ahead with plans for disputed security fence

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

JERUSALEM -- Israel pushed ahead Monday with work on a new stretch of its security fence east of Jerusalem that has been heavily criticized by both the Palestinians and Washington, which says it will complicate the "road map" peace plan.

Israel began confiscating Palestinian lands for the sections in Abu Dis and other areas east of Jerusalem more than a week ago, and workers broke ground there Friday.

The segment is part of a larger barrier -- 370 miles of trenches, fencing, razor wire and concrete wall -- that is meant to keep Palestinian militants from crossing into Israel to carry out attacks. About a fourth of it has been built.

Palestinian leaders say the fence, which cuts deep into the West Bank, is part of an Israeli land grab. Washington fears it could further hinder the "road map" peace plan that has again been jeopardized by violence in recent days.

The United States has threatened to reduce loan guarantees to Israel by the amount spent on the fence. Under a $9 billion loan guarantee deal signed Wednesday, Israel must report its expenditures on the barrier, though Israeli officials have not revealed what the consequences will be.

On Monday, a surveying team lined up the route in Abu Dis. Israeli soldiers kept guard around the site.

as bulldozers moved earth next to an olive grove.

Olive farmer Youssef Qombar, 62, said he found a confiscation order pinned to a tree and that the fence will cut through the middle of his property, to the south in Al-Sawahreh Al-Sharkia.

"I don't know why the Israelis are building it," he said. "I think that the only reason is to confiscate the lands."

Segments east of Jerusalem will force tens of thousands of Palestinians to use just one road to get in and out, and will make travel times far longer.

Israel built a concrete wall between Abu Dis and Jerusalem more than a year ago, already separating some residents from the eastern part of the city, and greatly increasing travel times. The new divider is to stretch north and south from the existing wall.

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