- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

JENIN, West Bank — The Israeli army reports a sharp drop in fatalities from Palestinian terror attacks in the first half of this year, giving much of the credit to the partially completed West Bank security barrier.

Palestinians, who are reluctant to find any good in the barrier, also are benefiting from a reduction in Israeli military operations into their neighborhoods and have begun to rebuild damaged streets and buildings.

Israeli fatalities since Jan. 1 are down by 33 percent compared with the first half of 2003 and by more than 80 percent compared with the first half of 2002, according to Israeli security officials.

The northern section of the West Bank barrier — a matrix of fences, trenches and concrete wall — was completed a little less than a year ago.

Although Palestinians see the barrier’s deviation from the West Bank border as a de facto land grab, the fence has made it infinitely more difficult for suicide bombers to reach Israeli cities just a few minutes away by car.

The last major suicide bombing involving civilians was in mid-March, and it has been almost seven weeks since an Israeli civilian died in a Palestinian attack.

After the start of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000, residents in the rural hills of northern Israel’s Gilboa region grew accustomed to living on constant alert.

Just a few miles away is Jenin, a stronghold of Palestinian terrorists who exploited the foothills along the open border to avoid military blockades and carry out suicide bombings in nearby cities such as Afula and Netanya.

Haunted by the specter of militants who passed within a few feet of their homes, the communities canceled cultural events and kept their children indoors.

In the past year, however, all that has become a distant memory.

“We would have 600 security incidents in a year. Since the fence has been completed, there have been zero,” said Danny Atar, chairman of the Gilboa Regional Council. “A routine has returned to the region. There’s a feeling that we’ve returned to life.”

About three months have passed since the last bombing inside Israel, marking one of the longest periods between attacks since the uprising began.

Although not a week goes by without the Israeli military announcing the foiling of a bombing attempt — on Tuesday, Israeli security officials said they picked up a terrorist mastermind on the Gaza Strip border — the volume of attacks has thinned, according to analysts.

Israel’s policy of targeted assassinations and the military’s frequent incursions into Palestinian cities also have turned the tables, but the barrier is getting much of the credit.

“The fence is complicating their efforts. Afula was a piece of cake until the fence was erected,” said Uzi Arad, a counterterrorism expert at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Institute.

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