IDF begins work on southern section of separation fence
Defense Ministry bulldozers, supported by security guards and a military jeep, began yesterday to prepare the ground for the construction of the southern section of the separation fence, in the Hebron Hills area. The preparation work comes five days after Palestinian suicide bombers from the Hebron area carried out a terror attack in Be'er Sheva that killed 16 people.
Security sources confirmed that work had started on a 40-kilometer stretch of fence southwest of Hebron; but the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the work wasn't related to last week's attack. The bombing has put pressure on the government to speed up construction of the fence, which has been delayed by a series of legal challenges.
At this stage, the bulldozers are working on a six-kilometer segment, with the final route of the fence in the area yet to be agreed on. As published last week in Haaretz, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is at odds with some members of the defense establishment over the route of the southern section of the fence. Sharon wants the fence in the southern Hebron Hills area to be moved further to the north of the Green Line.
Security sources told Haaretz yesterday that in light of the delays in the construction of the fence, it is not expected to be completed before 2006.
The bulldozers began work yesterday along the route of the Patrols Road, which lies along the Green Line, west of the Palestinian village of Beit Awa and close to the Shekef settlement. The area sees hundreds of Palestinian laborers entering Israel for work on a daily basis.
Construction of the fence in this area was originally slated to begin next year, but appears to have been brought forward in the wake of public pressure following the Be'er Sheva bombings. The specific segment under construction is part of the stretch of fence that is supposed to eventually surround the Hebron Hills to the southwest and southeast.
Till now, there have been no significant objections raised to the construction of the fence in the area close to the Green Line; but there are a number of sections of fence in the Hebron Hills area that have yet to be planned and the original route of the fence in this area would encroach on the West Bank so as to include settlements such as Maon, Carmel and Susiya, as well as additional areas in which Palestinians live.
With regard to the areas of these settlements and the IDF's adjacent live-fire zone, a bridging procedure is currently underway between the defense establishment and Palestinian residents known as "the cave people" - a group of Palestinians living in the agricultural areas of the Hebron Hills.
Residents of the Palestinian villages in the area in which construction of the fence got underway yesterday expressed concern about the completion of the barrier, noting it would totally shut off their access to Israeli territory.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat condemned the latest construction Sunday. "This action totally destroys the road map," he said, referring to the U.S.-backed peace plan meant to bring about an independent Palestinian state next year.
The road map has been stalled for months, amid violations by Israel and the Palestinians.