- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2002

JERUSALEM Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has reluctantly approved construction of a fence between parts of the West Bank and Israel to stop Palestinian attackers slipping into Israeli cities, a spokesman said yesterday.

"It's part of a series of measures to stop suicide bombers getting into Israel," Mr. Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said.

The fence is to run about 68 miles from a point northeast of Tel Aviv to southeast of Haifa, a stretch of country running parallel to the Mediterranean Sea. At some points Israel's narrow coastal strip is only nine miles wide.

Work on the fence has already begun in some places.

The announcement came as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat presented CIA Director George J. Tenet with a plan for restructuring the unwieldy Palestinian security apparatus.

Under the plan, the number of Palestinian security services would be trimmed from 12 to six.

The Palestinian leader, who met Mr. Tenet in the West Bank city of Ramallah, appointed a 73-year-old major general, Ahmed Razak Yehiyeh, to head the new security array.

Israel said the proposed changes are largely cosmetic because Mr. Arafat, who has done little to rein in militants in the past, remains in charge.

Some Palestinians also were skeptical, because the reform would still leave six different security branches.

Mr. Sharon's approval of the fence is likely to anger many of his supporters, including Jewish settlers, who believe it represents a first step toward giving up parts of the West Bank, which they claim for security and religious reasons.

It is meant to separate the northern West Bank towns of Jenin, Tulkarm and Qalqilya from nearby Israeli cities that have frequently been targeted by Palestinian attackers.

But a spokesman for Jewish settlers in the West Bank said any barrier along the currently unmarked frontier, known as the Green Line, could be interpreted as a border.

"When you put a fence along the Green Line, it's not to stop terrorists, it's a political fence," Settlements Council spokesman Yehoshua Mor-Yosef said. "We are against all political fences."

Before Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War, it was ruled by Jordan, and the entire length of the frontier was fenced, Palestinian Authority chief cartographer Khalil Tufakji said.

The new barrier will roughly follow the old line, but at some points will veer into the West Bank, meaning the appropriation of at least 30 square miles of Palestinian land and putting 11 Palestinian villages on the Israeli side of the fence, Mr. Tufakji said. The total area of the West Bank is 10,124 square miles.

In interim peace accords signed in 1993, the two sides decided the border between Israel and a future Palestinian entity was to be determined in negotiations.

But talks have ground to a halt amid more than 20 months of violence.

Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, who drafted the fence plan, says he opposes a unilateral decision about borders.

"Any border that we set for ourselves would be temporary and would perpetuate the conflict," he warned a conference of his Labor Party last month.

He supports a fence all along the 180-mile frontier, maintaining an Israeli military presence in parts of the West Bank while Israel and the Palestinians negotiate a permanent peace settlement.

Many, if not most of the suicide attacks against Israel have originated from towns in northern areas of the West Bank.

As Israel set about building its fence, Mr. Tenet wound up his latest mission to halt fighting and was leaving for home after a day of meetings with Palestinian officials.

He met with Mr. Arafat and then held separate talks with three Palestinian security chiefs Jibril Rajoub, Amin Hindi and Mohammed Dahlan.

Paul Patin, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, said U.S. officials would judge the reform efforts by results.

"If there is a cessation of terror, then it's good. If there's not a cessation of terror, it's not good," he said.

The plan presented to Mr. Tenet calls for cutting in half the number of Palestinian security services. After restructuring, there would be police, border guards, internal security and external security, military intelligence and Mr. Arafat's personal guard unit.

Israel was skeptical. "Reforms that have no substantial change in strategy and policy are worthless," Mr. Gissin said.

Israel accuses Mr. Arafat of doing little to stop attacks or actually encouraging militants.

Palestinian officials said the new security chief, Gen. Yehiyeh, was the commander of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) before Mr. Arafat and his leadership returned to Gaza in 1994 and set up the Palestinian Authority.

The PLA operated in Lebanon and other Arab countries as the military wing of Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization.

There was no official announcement of the appointment.

Since 1994, Gen. Yehiyeh has not had a field command. Instead, he has been in charge of the Palestinian delegation in a joint council with Israel, designed to deal with security problems, a body that has met rarely in recent years.

Gen. Yehiyeh's appointment was seen as a slap in the face to several current commanders, especially Mr. Dahlan, the powerful Gaza chief, who was hoping to take overall command. Some Palestinians said Mr. Arafat's appointment of the elderly general was a way of maintaining control himself.

Haider Abdel Shafi, a veteran Palestinian opposition figure and anti-corruption crusader, said the appointment "disturbs me very much."

"It raises my doubts about the sincerity of doing the necessary reforms," he said.

In the West Bank, meanwhile, Israeli troops raided several Palestinian areas in search of Palestinian militants. In one confrontation, a 16-year-old Palestinian was shot and killed by soldiers dispersing stone throwers, doctors said.

Near Nablus, Israeli soldiers opened fire at an armored vehicle carrying two photographers from the Reuters news agency. No one was hurt, but the vehicle was slightly damaged.


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