Israel Approves Construction of Fence Around Jerusalem

Israel's Cabinet voted on Sunday to lay temporary fencing around areas of Jerusalem where the controversial West Bank separation barrier still hasn't been built, calling it a quick solution to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from entering the country.

Palestinians said it would make life tougher for thousands of Palestinians who have crucial ties to the disputed city, and strengthen Israel's claims to all of Jerusalem.

"They are keeping Palestinians outside the city in an effort to create facts on the ground and pre-empt a final agreement between the sides," said Khalil Tafakji, a Palestinian geographer on Jerusalem.

The Cabinet also modified the planned route of the West Bank barrier in the area of the Jewish settlement of Ariel to put 30,000 Palestinians on the "Palestinian" side of the enclosure.

The settlement bloc is the deepest inside the West Bank, and the Cabinet's action signals Israel intends to retain West Bank land where the bloc is situated.

"We must make a supreme effort to complete the security barrier wherever possible," Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the start of the Cabinet meeting. "The decisions we take today will allow us to complete the construction of the fence very quickly in critical areas, and therefore improve our ability to thwart attempted attacks."

Israel began building the 760-kilometer (460-mile) length of electronic fence, concrete walls and trenches in 2001 after hundreds of Israelis were killed in suicide bombings and other Palestinian militant attacks. But the obstacle, which is just half built, dips into the West Bank at several points, and Palestinians call it a land grab.

The part of the enclosure around Jerusalem is especially contentious, because of conflicting claims to the city. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians view the mostly Arab eastern sector as capital of a future state.

The fencing in Jerusalem is to fill in gaps in the permanent barrier that haven't been built, in part because of dozens of legal challenges to about 10 percent of its route brought by Palestinians and others.

A Palestinian who carried out a deadly suicide bombing in Tel Aviv two weeks ago reportedly entered the country through the Jerusalem area.

The temporary fencing around Jerusalem will disrupt the lives of thousands of Palestinians who enter the city every day for jobs, services or schooling, said a group that advocates Palestinian rights in the city, Ir Amim. Government officials could not immediately say if the temporary fencing would include gateways for Palestinians with permission.

If it does not, it will hamper the lives of Palestinians in the area even more than the permanent barrier, which does include passages, said Danny Seidemann, head of Ir Amim.

"This means that Jerusalem is becoming hermetic," Seidemann said. "The physical barrier will exist well before the mechanism to allow people to move and this will be very disruptive."

Due to strong U.S. pressure, Israel has not built the main barrier around the area of Ariel, which is 17 kilometers (10 miles) inside the West Bank, because it would incorporate about 2 percent of the West Bank on the "Israeli" side. In the interim, Israel has begun building a temporary fence around Ariel.

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On Sunday, the Cabinet decided that the route of the fence around the Ariel area would be modified so 30,000 Palestinians would be located on the "West Bank" side.

This Ariel fence eventually will connect to the main section of the barrier to put 45,000 settlers on the "Israeli" side, officials said.

Tafakji, the Palestinian cartographer, said the modifications to the barrier's route that Cabinet approved on Sunday was Cabinet's way to hurdle legal challenges without waiting for a court to resolve them.

"They are pre-empting the court rulings," he said.

Olmert recently said he wants the entire barrier concluded by the end of the year.