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Top Israeli official says barrier meant to ensure Jewish majority in Jerusalem

2005-07-11 11:17:00

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Top Israeli official says barrier meant to ensure Jewish majority in Jerusalem
02:06 PM EDT Jul 11
KARIN LAUB

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel's separation barrier in and around Jerusalem is meant to ensure a Jewish majority in the disputed city, a cabinet minister acknowledged Monday, contradicting government claims that the divider is solely a temporary security measure.

Israel's cabinet on Sunday approved final details of the 65-kilometre Jerusalem barrier, which is halfway built. It will eventually cut off some 55,000 Arab residents in four neighbourhoods from their city, while including some 30,000 Jewish West Bank settlers on the Jerusalem side.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser Al Kidwa on Monday urged more street protests against the barrier, saying Palestinians should organize for a "higher level of daily confrontations against the wall."

The European Union's visiting foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said the Jerusalem barrier raises humanitarian problems for the Palestinians.

Palestinians fear Israel is unilaterally drawing its borders by pulling out of Gaza, beefing up large West Bank settlement blocs and building the barrier around Jerusalem. The terms of Palestinian statehood, including the fate of Jerusalem and the settlements, are to be determined in talks on a final peace deal.

Haim Ramon, the Israeli cabinet minister for Jerusalem, told Israel Radio the barrier is not only making the city safer by buffering against suicide bombers, but "also makes it more Jewish."

During four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, Jerusalem was hit hardest by Palestinian suicide bombers from the West Bank.

Palestinian officials contend Israel's main goal in building the Jerusalem barrier is not security, but tilting the demographic balance. About one-third of the city's 700,000 residents are Palestinians who live in east Jerusalem, the sector the Palestinians seek as a future capital.

Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast War. The captured area included sites holy to both Judaism and Islam. In annexing the eastern sector, Israel also included what were then West Bank areas near the city, including the refugee camp of Shuafat.

Ramon said Israel made a mistake in expanding the Jerusalem boundaries in 1967, and suggested the barrier can shift the balance by cutting off four Arab neighbourhoods of the city, including Shuafat and the Qalandia camp.

"The government did well in determining the fence route without including Shuafat and Qalandia in Jerusalem," Ramon said. "I don't think anybody is sorry about this."

But Zeev Boim, Israel's deputy defence minister, denied the route of the barrier was dictated by demographic considerations.

"The fence was put up because of security needs, to stop terrorism," he told Israel Army Radio.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Jerusalem barrier is inflicting a "catastrophe" on the Palestinians. "The whole idea is to get as many Palestinian outside Jerusalem, and get as many Israelis (as possible) inside," Erekat said. "This is determining the fate of Jerusalem before we begin negotiations."

Erekat said he would raise the issue with international envoys visiting the region this week, including senior U.S. State Department official David Welch.

The United States says Israel has the right to defend itself, but should minimize hardship to Palestinians in drawing the barrier route.

The EU envoy Solana raised similar concerns.

"We think that Israel has a right to defend itself but we think that the fence when it is done outside the territory of Israel is not legally proper and it creates also humanitarian problems," he said after meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

The Jerusalem barrier is part of a longer series of fences, walls and trenches running in and along the West Bank.

Since construction began, there have been frequent stone-throwing protests near construction sites, and a number of Palestinians have been killed by fire from Israeli security guards.

Al Kidwa was marking the anniversary of a non-binding world court ruling that the barrier is illegal and should be torn down. Listing a 10-point action plan against the barrier, he also said the Palestinian parliament should ban Palestinian workers from helping build the barrier or Jewish settlements.

© The Canadian Press, 2005

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