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Israel set on Jerusalem wall

Plan will cut off Palestinians who live in part of city

JERUSALEM -- Israel's Cabinet, ignoring Palestinian objections and US misgivings, endorsed a Jerusalem separation barrier yesterday that is meant to stop suicide bombers but will cut off 55,000 Palestinian residents from the city.

Last week, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered construction of the Jerusalem segment of the barrier to be speeded up, and government ministries have until Sept. 1 to complete their preparations.

The wall around Jerusalem, originally approved in January 2004, is part of the partially completed barrier along the West Bank.

Israel began building a barrier along the West Bank at the height of a suicide bombing campaign by Palestinians more than two years ago. Attackers were crossing the unmarked and largely unguarded cease-fire line between Israel and the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, and blowing themselves up in Israeli cities, killing hundreds of people.

But the barrier dips into the West Bank in several places to encircle main settlements, and Palestinians denounce it as a land grab.

In its decision yesterday, the Cabinet said it sees ''great importance in the immediate completion of the security fence in the Jerusalem area, in order to improve the level of personal security for the residents of Israel."

The barrier's route around Jerusalem is particularly contentious. It reshapes the boundaries of the city, which is claimed by Israelis and Palestinians as a capital, and dramatically changes its demographics.

The barrier leaves four Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, with some 55,000 residents, on the West Bank side, while including the largest Jewish West Bank settlement, Maaleh Adumim, with close to 30,000 people, on the Jerusalem side.

The fate of Jerusalem was to have been determined in talks on a final peace deal. The Palestinians say the barrier preempts the outcome of negotiations and separates east Jerusalem, the sector they claim for a capital, from its West Bank hinterland.

Israel has portrayed the barrier as a temporary security measure to keep out Palestinian bombers and gunmen. The United States says Israel has the right to defend itself but should minimize hardship to Palestinians in drawing the barrier route.

The Cabinet approved a plan yesterday to build 11 passages through the Jerusalem barrier. The ministers did not explain how they would ensure quick passage of tens of thousands of Arab residents who need to get to schools, jobs, hospitals, and the center of the city.

The government said it would build new schools and clinics in the Arab neighborhoods cut off by the barrier.

Vice Premier Ehud Olmert said yesterday that once the barrier around Jerusalem is completed, some 55,000 Palestinian residents of the city would find themselves on the wrong side of the barrier.

Jerusalem has about 700,000 residents, including about 230,000 Palestinians who carry blue Israeli identity cards that identify them as permanent residents, grant them freedom of movement, and make them eligible for Israel's social services.

The barrier will slice through four outlying Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem: Kufr Aqab, Anata, Qalandia, and the Shufat refugee camp.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, said Israel must stop building the barrier, which he said is bringing catastrophe upon Palestinians.

''The wall is separating between Palestinians and Palestinians," Erekat said. ''We have exerted every possible effort with the Israelis themselves, the Americans, the international community, but the only thing that is happening is that the wall is being completed."

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