Israel Plans Gaza Coast Sea Barrier

The Israeli navy plans to build a sea barrier off the coast of northern Gaza (search) to keep out potential attackers once Israel pulls out of the coastal strip this summer, military officials said.

The navy concluded the barrier, stretching 950 yards into the sea, is necessary because of the expected loss of surveillance systems in the planned pullout, military officials told an Israeli reporter in Gaza, requesting that their names not be used because the project is still being discussed.

Designed to keep potential attackers from swimming to the Israeli coast, the barrier's first hundred yards will consist of cement pilings buried into the sandy bottom, the Jerusalem Post (search) newspaper reported Friday. The paper said the structure will extend another 800 yards in the form of a 1.8-yard-deep fence floating beneath the surface.

A Palestinian official reacted angrily to the report.

"I hope the Israeli mentality of barriers will end," said negotiator Saeb Erekat (search). "Now they have land barriers and tomorrow sea barriers and the day after sky barriers and what else? Will they put a barrier around each Palestinian individual or house?"

Gaza, home to 1.3 million Palestinians, is surrounded by an Israeli fence built to keep back attackers and which prevents Gazans from being able to come and go. Israel is also building a barrier between itself and the West Bank.

"This is the wrong policy. This is political blindness," said Erekat. "The answer to all these woes of security and so on in is a meaningful peace process, is building the bridges with the Palestinians, is ending the occupation."

The military officials said construction of the new sea barrier will begin soon and that it will be a major project costing millions of dollars, though they did not say how much. The barrier is not expected to be complete in time for Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza, set to begin in mid-August.

Israel closed two border crossings with Gaza on Friday after receiving intelligence information warning of Palestinian militants on their way to carry out attacks, the military said, adding that Israel notified the Palestinian Authority but they did not act to apprehend them.

In another development Friday, Israel said its dispute with the U.S. over its military technology sales to China will be worked out soon, a day after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, due in Israel this weekend, acknowledged a sharp disagreement with Israel over the issue.

"We are attentive to American concerns. The issue will be solved over the next few weeks and we will work out all the points of dispute," said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Rice told a news conference on Thursday that Israel "has a responsibility to be sensitive" to U.S. concerns, adding that American officials have had "difficult" discussions on the China sales with the Israelis.

"I think they understand now the seriousness of the matter," Rice said.

She said Washington is increasingly concerned about military modernization in China. The U.S. fears this could upset the security balance in Asia and make it more difficult for the United States to help defend Taiwan from a mainland attack.

China must not be allowed to undertake a "major military escalation" before there are assurances that it will be a "positive force" on the international scene, Rice said.

According to Israeli officials and recent media reports, the United States has imposed a series of sanctions on the Israeli arms industry in recent months because of it sales to China.

Washington has halted cooperation on several projects, frozen delivery of sensitive equipment, and is even refusing to answer telephone calls from Israeli defense officials, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported this past weekend.

The dispute stems from the Israeli sale of unmanned drone aircraft technology to China. State-owned Israel Aircraft Industries sold Harpy drones to China in the early 1990s. Harpy parts were shipped to Israel last year for what American defense officials said was an upgrade.

Israel has denied the American contention, saying the Harpy units were undergoing routine maintenance. Israeli military officials have said work on the Harpy deal has been frozen.