Olmert orders gaps in Jerusalem fence closed

Refuses to set deadline for project's completion; Border Police says more manpower needed.

fence with flag 298  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
fence with flag 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the gaps in the Jerusalem security fence closed Wednesday, but again declined to institute a deadline for completion of the fence, angering those who argue the slow pace of construction is costing lives. Until the permanent fence can be built around Jerusalem, Olmert ordered the army to use temporary fences, increased manpower and better technology to immediately plug the gaps. He also indicated changes in the route of the fence would be voted on in Sunday's cabinet meeting. Eli Amitai, Border Police commander for Jerusalem told The Jerusalem Post that Olmert had allocated NIS 43 million for increased manpower around the Jerusalem envelope. However, it would be impossible to immediately implement Olmert's order regarding manpower, Amitai said. Even once the money found its way to his unit, it "would take a while" before he could bring in the necessary officers to fully secure the capital, he said, adding that enough manpower is "always a problem." Olmert said that the Prime Minister's Office will monitor progress "on a daily" basis until completion, according to a communiqu issued following a security cabinet meeting. Security officials believe the majority of suicide bombers are infiltrating Israel from the West Bank through gaps in the Jerusalem fence, most of which is a concrete wall. It was through Jerusalem that the terrorist who killed nine people in Tel Aviv on April 6 entered. Whereas some gaps in the fence are meter-scale holes, others are stretches as long as a kilometer that are not yet constructed. Petitions from Palestinians to the High Court of Justice have slowed the construction of the fence across the West Bank, but especially in Jerusalem. During an investigation of the open segments conducted last Thursday, just three days after the bombing, the Post found a lax atmosphere among security personnel assigned to guard duty. While fence proponents applauded what appeared to be Olmert's assumption of responsibility for the fence's construction, they once again called upon the government to enact legislation requiring the barrier's completion by the end of the year. "There's no project that can be finished on time if there is no time line," said former national security adviser Uzi Dayan, who first presented the plan for the fence to former prime minister Ariel Sharon. "After the murder of another nine Israelis what we need now is legislation." In a discussion on the fence Wednesday, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski told Olmert that after receiving a "green light from the High Court, it is possible to finish the fence by the end of the year." He stressed that, "this is our obligation toward the capital's residents." After the bombing, government officials said speeding up the legal proceedings impeding fence construction would be a main topic of today's discussion. However, the communiqu said nothing of such efforts and a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office said he could "not add anything to the communiqu ." Moreover, details provided to the media by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz about where the fence had been completed appeared to be inaccurate. In reports, Mofaz claimed the fence was complete from Tirat Zvi to Hashmonaim. However, about five kilometers of the fence around the entrance to the Ariel road remain incomplete. The security cabinet also considered changes to the route of the fence around the Hebron Hills, Jerusalem, the "Ariel fingers" and Gush Etzion. While it was originally decided that all of the Ariel settlement block would be included in three fingers of the fence, the new route would place Kedumim, Karnei Shomron and their satellite segment extending east from Alfei Menashe. The proposed changes will be voted on at the next cabinet meeting. According to figures provided by the government, the 740-km. fence remains under 50 percent complete four years after construction began, despite numerous guarantees by defense officials that it would be finished long ago. In the latest estimate given in February, Col. (res.) Danny Tirza, who is in charge of planning the route of the fence, told the Post the fence would be finished by the end of 2007, with the Jerusalem section complete by the end of this summer. Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.