Sharon Wants to Move Barrier Closer to Israel

Israel will review "every kilometer" of the 310-mile stretch of West Bank barrier (search) not yet built to check whether Palestinian rights and international law are being violated, an Israeli official said Friday.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) was quoted Thursday as saying he would be prepared to move the separation barrier closer to Israel, wherever possible, to avoid trapping Palestinians in fenced-in enclaves.

The promise of a review came in response to a Supreme Court ruling earlier this week that most of a 25-mile segment of barrier near Jerusalem must be rerouted because it would cause too much hardship to Palestinians.

The barrier — a complex of fences, walls, barbed wire and trenches — eventually will cut off the entire West Bank from Israel, at a length of 425 miles. One-fourth has been built.

Palestinians contend that the barrier amounts to a land grab and Israel should have built it on its territory, not in the West Bank.

The barrier is a key element of Sharon's plan of "unilateral disengagement" from the Palestinians, which also includes a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (search) and four small West Bank settlements by September 2005.

In new violence Friday, Israeli soldiers killed three Palestinians — all unarmed, according to witnesses — in separate Gaza clashes. A fourth Palestinian, a 15-year-old boy, died of wounds suffered in an Israeli missile strike Thursday.

Also, Palestinian militants fired three homemade rockets toward the border town of Sderot. One fell in town, causing no injuries, and the other two hit open fields.

In the West Bank town of Qabatiya, Palestinian militants killed a man with a burst of automatic fire in a public square after accusing him of collaborating with Israel and sexually abusing his two young daughters.

A lynch mob of about 500 people cheered on gunmen from the  (search), a group linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah (search) movement. Television footage showed the man on his knees, his head bowed, before he was killed.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, three Al Aqsa members from the West Bank city of Nablus were arrested on suspicion of planning to carry out a suicide bombing in Jerusalem on Friday. One detainee carried a 26-pound explosives belt ready for detonation, security officials said.

Israel says it needs the separation barrier to keep out suicide bombers and other Palestinian attackers, who have killed hundreds of Israelis since 2000.

A senior government official said on condition of anonymity that Sharon told officials the construction of the barrier must advance quickly but problematic areas have to be rerouted to meet the Supreme Court's demands.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told a team of military officials, engineers, archaeologists and attorneys to review a 310-mile section of the barrier not yet built to see whether Palestinian rights are being violated, said Shiri Eden, an adviser to Mofaz.

The team is looking at "every kilometer to see that it doesn't cause too much hardship to the Palestinians," Eden said.

The section already built will not be reviewed, she said. The barrier has severely disrupted Palestinian lives. Children have to pass through army-operated gates to reach schools, some communities are encircled and farmers are cut off from fields.

A government official said it would take about two weeks to review the area near Jerusalem mentioned in the Supreme Court ruling.

Sharon said that in areas not considered problematic, construction should begin immediately.

"In areas where we cannot compromise on security, don't make concessions," Sharon was quoted as saying.

"But in places where we can, we need to do as little damage as possible to the Palestinians' way of life, and we can move the fence a little closer to the Green Line," he said, referring to Israel's old frontier before it captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war.

Palestinian officials have said they have no problem with a separation barrier, provided it is not built on West Bank land. However, Sharon has said he would not have the barrier run along the Green Line for fear it would be interpreted as Israel's tacit agreement that this will be the future border.

Hassan Abu Libdeh, the Palestinian Cabinet secretary, said any route cutting into the West Bank is unacceptable.

"We will not accept the wall as long as it takes even a few centimeters of Palestinian territory," he said.

Next week, the world court at The Hague, Netherlands, is to issue an advisory ruling on the route at the request of the Palestinians. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, speaking in Washington, said Israel would reject interference by the international court.

He said the barrier could always be moved if the Israeli Supreme Court — or a peace settlement — requires it, but until then it is needed to prevent terror attacks.

"The fence is reversible. Human lives are irreversible," Shalom said.