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Israel Considers Making a Fortress of Jerusalem

Mideast: Plan to use fences, roadblocks and foot patrols would ostensibly deter suicide bombers. Critics say it would add to problems.

January 30, 2002|MARJORIE MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Israeli security chiefs presented plans to the government Tuesday to surround Jerusalem with fences, roadblocks, ditches and foot patrols to prevent more of the Palestinian suicide bombings that have wreaked havoc in the city in recent weeks.

The National Security Council's plan, known as "Enveloping Jerusalem," also calls for checkpoints and electronic surveillance between West and East Jerusalem that critics say would in effect repartition the contested city without ensuring Israeli security.

The government denies that there would be any physical or de facto division of Jerusalem between Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods, but it acknowledges that movement into, out of and around the city would be more difficult under the plan.

"The concept is to put an obstacle on the road of those who are trying to penetrate the city for terrorist activities. But a wall inside the city, that's nonsense," said Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "It will not be easy for the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, nor for the Jewish population. Everyone will have to contend with the new measures."

Police and security officials reportedly had proposed fences or walls to divide parts of Jerusalem. But for Sharon and right-wing members of his government, a wall would signal a willingness by Israel to cede part of the city to the Palestinians and would symbolize a return to pre-1967 borders, before Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan.

Most Israelis insist that Jerusalem is the "eternal, undivided capital" of Israel and reject Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

In fact, Israel Radio reported that Sharon altered the proposal to put some suburbs of Jerusalem now ruled by the Palestinian Authority under the Israeli security net, in effect cutting them off from the rest of the West Bank.

Palestinian officials denounced the Jerusalem plan, saying that the city's security problems cannot be solved with more checkpoints and border patrols.

"It is a long, open border, and the ones who do these operations inside Israel know all the ways and means to get in," said Ziad abu Ziad, the Palestinian Authority minister responsible for Jerusalem affairs. "This will not help. What will help everybody is to find a solution to the conflict."

The Jerusalem security plan was drafted months ago but shelved as impractical and expensive until a bombing Sunday on downtown Jaffa Street that left two people dead and 14 hospitalized from their wounds. It was the second attack on Jaffa Street in six days and the seventh in central Jerusalem in less than 15 months.

For the first time since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000, the attacker was a woman. On Tuesday, police were still trying to determine her identity and whether she blew herself up intentionally or accidentally, perhaps with the bomb detonating prematurely.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, and the bomber has not been celebrated as a shahid, or martyr, as normally happens with male assailants. The woman reportedly carried a bag, whereas suicide bombers typically wear explosives strapped to their bodies.

A female suicide bomber would signal a change in tactics by the extremist Palestinian organizations and present a new challenge to Israeli security forces.

The Jerusalem security plan would cost about $35 million and see hundreds of additional troops patrolling the 33-mile municipal boundary that Israel has drawn around Jerusalem, Gissin said. After he was briefed on the plan, Sharon sent it to his Security Cabinet for closer examination.

Sharon's office declined to confirm details of the plan and berated government officials for having leaked some elements to the Israeli press.

According to Israeli media, the plan calls for separating Jerusalem from the West Bank by means of roadblocks, ditches and other barriers. Palestinian suburbs of East Jerusalem such as Anata and Abu Dis--under Palestinian political control but Israeli security control--would be inside the Israeli security enclosure.

The plan is also said to call for a seven-mile fence separating the southern Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem from the West Bank, but Sharon reportedly opposes such a lengthy barrier.

"In some places, there will be a fence," Gissin said. "A fence is necessary, but not sufficient. A fence is not control. You get control by the deployment of troops . . . and intelligence."

Israeli media reported that roadblocks would be set up along a "seam line" between Jewish West Jerusalem and Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem and reinforced by a "soft wall" of video cameras, thermal sensors and patrols with night surveillance equipment. By Tuesday night, Israeli radio was calling the proposal "the separation plan."

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