- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2004

HERZLIYA, Israel — Israel’s deputy defense minister pledged yesterday to sharply reduce the number of raids into Palestinian cities once Israel finishes building its fence separating Israel from the West Bank.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Zeev Boim said the first stage of construction, involving more than 120 miles and blocking the northern West Bank, had resulted in a drastic reduction of suicide attacks on Israelis.

He said only one killer, a woman, had managed to get through the barrier, and that was by fooling police at a gate.

The barrier already had saved scores of Israeli lives, he said, and also spared Palestinian losses in Israeli responses.

The vast majority of terror attacks had come from the northern West Bank, where suicide bombers could walk through olive groves and orchards, or between houses, and emerge close to Israeli cities.

Now, Mr. Boim said, long detours force would-be killers southward within the West Bank, giving Israeli forces far better chances of intercepting them.

“We had more than 900 reasons to build the fence,” he earlier told a security conference here involving visiting American and Indian delegations. “We had lost more than 900 people in these attacks, and thousands of injured.”

He also said the barrier would “be a stabilizing factor” and aid in reaching a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Palestinians have mounted a worldwide campaign claiming that the barrier is an attempt by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to scuttle the internationally backed “road map” peace plan and an attempt by Israel to grab land in spots where the barrier snakes into the West Bank.

The U.S. government has cut $295 million in loan guarantees to protest encroachments into West Bank territory.

Mr. Boim avoided direct criticism of the United States but said in his speech that the barrier would be moved from its present course to whatever line was designated in any Israeli-Palestinian settlement.

“We moved a similar barrier in Lebanon five times,” he said, “and it’s now on the international border. This one will be moved in accordance with a political agreement,” he said.

He also told the conference that a fully established barrier would “reduce our military presence in Palestinian areas.”

In his interview, Mr. Boim noted a 70 percent reduction in the number of raids on Palestinian cities, though he said that figure was only an estimate.

Israeli forces, he said, still would need to enter Palestinian cities periodically to prevent production of rockets and preparations to launch rockets or fire mortars into Israel.

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