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Sharon Vows to Press Ahead with Security Fence (REUTERS) By Jeffrey Heller WASHINGTON 07/29/03 02:10 PM ET) Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=3180494
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told President Bush on Tuesday that Israel would keep building a West Bank security barrier that has drawn criticism from the U.S. leader.
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But seeking to ease Bush´s concerns over the project that Palestinians have condemned as a land grab, Sharon pledged to do his utmost to ensure the fence snaking through the West Bank would have a minimum impact on daily Palestinian life.
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Bush, who called the fence a problem after talks on Friday with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, smoothed over some rough edges with Israel by echoing Sharon´s call for the moderate Palestinian leader to dismantle militant groups.
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Such action is mandated by a U.S.-backed Middle East peace plan affirmed at the June 4 summit in Aqaba, Jordan, attended by Bush, Sharon and Abbas.
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"The Palestinian Authority must undertake sustained, targeted and effective operations to confront those engaged in terror and to dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure," Bush said at a news conference with Sharon, who was making his eighth White House visit since taking office.
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Sharon came armed with confidence-building measures with the Palestinians, including the release of 540 prisoners, among them 210 militants.
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But he signaled such good will gestures might be Israel´s last along the peace "road map" until Abbas cracked down on militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad that have killed hundreds of Israelis.
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"If calm prevails and we witness the dismantlement of terror organizations, Israel will be able to take additional steps," Sharon said, nearly a month into a three-month cease-fire militants declared in an uprising for statehood.
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The prime minister said he was concerned the "welcome quiet" brought by the truce "will be shattered at any minute by the continued existence of terror organizations which the Palestinian Authority is doing nothing to eliminate."
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Sharon said he explained that the security barrier -- a cement wall in some places and electronic wire fence in others -- would help bring security to Israel and subsequently build peace.
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"The security fence will continue to be built with every effort to minimize the infringement on the daily life of the Palestinian population," Sharon said.
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He said a dialogue with Washington over the project would go on.
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On the eve of the talks, senior Israeli officials noted that a final course for the barrier had not been set, indicating Israel would be open to U.S. suggestions.
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Bush called the fence "a problem" on Friday after talks with Abbas at the White House that appeared to put the moderate leader on equal footing in Washington with Sharon.
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"It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and Israel with a wall snaking through the West Bank," Bush said.
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In what appeared to be a softening of tone on Tuesday, Bush referred to the barrier as a fence. But he urged Sharon "to carefully consider all the consequences of Israel´s actions as we move forward on the road to peace."
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Palestinians fear the fence, due to cut deep into West Bank territory, is intended to unilaterally set the borders of the Palestinian state by ensuring large tracts of confiscated West Bank land are on the Israeli side of the barrier.
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The peace plan is intended to end violence linked to a 34-month-old Palestinian uprising for independence and establish a Palestinian state by 2005. (© Reuters 2003 07/29/03)
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