July 28, 2005

Israel plans triple-fencing of Gaza after pullout

By Matt Spetalnick

URIM, Israel (Reuters) - Israel is rushing to complete a
three-layer-deep barrier of fences and walls on its border with
Gaza to keep Palestinian infiltrators out after it pulls out of
the territory, military officials said on Thursday.

The army insists that, unlike Israel's internationally
condemned West Bank barrier, the new project will not cut into
Palestinian land. But the Palestinian Authority said such
Israeli measures could keep Gaza sealed up like a giant prison.

The plan calls for adding two new fences parallel to the
border fence that already surrounds the Gaza Strip and putting
up seven-meter (23-foot)-high concrete walls in several places,
a senior official said. He put the cost at $220 million.

Israel is beefing up its border defenses to compensate for
losing its military presence in Gaza after it removes all 21
Jewish settlements from the occupied strip in mid-August.

Security officials worry that even after the withdrawal,
Gaza militants will try to infiltrate gunmen and suicide
bombers into the Jewish state and fire rockets across the

"Our purpose is to protect our citizens and soldiers. We
have seen ... that we need something other than the existing
fence to have security," the senior official told reporters.

He said, however, that even the triple fencing of Gaza
might not be enough to stop militant attacks, and the army
might have to mount incursions back into Gaza after the
pullout. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has billed the withdrawal
as "disengagement" from conflict with the Palestinians.

"Instead of building bridges with the Palestinians, Israel
insists on building walls and fences of suffocation," said
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Echoing Palestinian concerns, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice said last week the United States wanted to
make sure Israel did not keep Gaza isolated after its


The military official said Israel had learned lessons from
its Lebanon withdrawal in 2000, when it left a single fence
line where the army has clashed regularly with Hizbollah

The army is putting up two new fences that will extend
about 60 km (37 miles) along its entire border with Gaza, he

One, made of metal and razor wire, is being installed a few
dozen meters (yards) closer to the Gaza boundary line than the
existing electronic fence, the official said.

The other, embedded with sensors and equipped with
surveillance cameras, watchtowers and remote-control machinegun
emplacements, will lie 70 to 150 meters east of the existing
border fence on the Israeli side, he said.

A one-km (half-mile)-long wall will be erected on Israel's
border with north Gaza and two smaller walls will be built
where Israeli towns are vulnerable to Palestinian gunfire, he

Israel has said it will keep control of Gaza's air and sea
space after the pullout for security reasons, although troops
are expected to leave the boundary with Egypt.

Palestinians welcome any withdrawal but fear Israel is
trading tiny Gaza, where 8,500 settlers live isolated from 1.4
million Palestinians, for a tighter hold on the occupied West
Bank, where the majority of 240,000 settlers live.

The World Court has declared Israel's West Bank barrier
illegal for intruding on occupied land. Israel says the planned
600-km (370-mile)-long structure keeps out suicide bombers.
Palestinians call it a grab for land they claim for a state.

"The new fence is in our own territory," the senior
official said of the Gaza barrier. He said the fencing would be
finished by October and all of the infrastructure by mid-2006.