JERUSALEM – The violent Islamic Hamas (search) group said Israel's barrier of fences, razor wire and trenches being built to seal off the West Bank (search) will not stop homicide bombers from reaching Israeli cities.
In a statement posted on a pro-Hamas Web site in the Gaza Strip (search) on Friday, the militant group warned it will continue to dispatch Palestinians to blow themselves up inside Israel.
"This wall will not protect the Zionist entity and will not stop the attacks of resistance; and God willing, the day will come when this wall will collapse as the Berlin wall collapsed," said the statement, signed by Hamas.
Earlier this week, the Israeli Cabinet approved a new phase of the barrier project that will add fences deep inside the West Bank to shield four large Jewish settlements.
For the time being, Israeli officials have said wide gaps would be left between the new fences and the main barrier being built closer to Israel's frontier with the West Bank. Connecting the fences -- as some Israeli leaders have said is still an option if attackers breach the gaps -- would slice the West Bank in half.
In an interview published Saturday in the Washington Post, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Israel's effort to dampen criticism by leaving gaps in the new phase of the fence was not satisfactory.
About one-fourth of the barrier project already has been built in the northern West Bank. In places, it runs close to Israel; elsewhere it dips farther into the West Bank, isolating several Palestinian villages and cutting off some residents from their land.
Israel says the barrier is needed to stop Palestinian homicide bombers and other attackers from reaching Israel, where they've killed hundreds during fighting that's lasted three years. Israeli officials point to the success of a fence that's been in place for years along Israel's edge with the Gaza Strip. No homicide bombers have succeeded in crossing it.
Palestinians are outraged at the construction, which they believe is being used to seize land Palestinians want for a future state.
U.S. officials also are critical, saying the route of the barrier could be viewed as an effort by Israel to unilaterally define the border of a future Palestinian state before negotiations to settle the conflict.
Powell indicated that the route should stick to the "green line," the frontier between Israel and the West Bank before the 1967 Mideast War.
"The more you intrude in Palestinian areas and the more it looks like it could be contiguous intrusion around large sections of Palestinian land that would prejudge subsequent negotiations as to what a Palestinian state may look like, that's a problem," Powell said.
Powell added that U.S. officials were having "intense discussions" about how to respond to the new construction plans. "We have not yet come to a conclusion about what to do and what our action should be," Powell said.
One option the Bush administration has considered is deducting the construction costs of the barrier from $9 billion in U.S. loan guarantees to Israel.
In its statement, the Hamas militant group expressed its outrage at the barrier, which it said "will tear up the West Bank and confiscate its land, forcing thousands of Palestinians to live in a big prison."
Hamas has been behind most of the 102 homicide bombings that have killed 413 people during three years of fighting. The group, founded in 1987, is the largest Palestinian militant faction and rejects a Jewish state in the Middle East.
Also Friday, about 3,000 Palestinians marched in a Gaza refugee camp in support of Hamas. Young men in black masks carried cardboard models of rockets and wore mock suicide bomb belts made of wood. Some Palestinians burned Israeli and American flags.