Israel planning high-tech barrier around Gaza after withdrawal

EREZ CROSSING, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel is beefing up its border with the Gaza Strip after next month’s withdrawal, the army said Thursday, disclosing details of a high-tech triple complex to ring the coastal strip with what they hope will be the world’s most impenetrable barrier.
The barrier system will surround Gaza with fences, electronic sensors, watchtowers mounted with remote-controlled machineguns and hundreds of video and night vision cameras, the military said.

In the West Bank on Thursday, Israeli forces killed an Islamic Jihad activist in an arrest raid, the military said. Soldiers surrounded a house in the village of Shufa and ordered everyone out. The activist’s father emerged and said no one else was inside, but a dog sent in by soldiers found the suspect, and soldiers killed him. Army Radio reported he was involved in the July 12 suicide bombing in the nearby city of Netanya that killed five Israelis.

Visiting Gaza on Thursday, Deputy Premier Shimon Peres called for massive international aide to upgrade the crossings for the good of the Palestinian economy.

“We don’t want to leave Gaza and keep Gaza closed. We want to facilitate movement of people and movement of goods,” Peres said during a tour of two of the crossings.

Peres, who is overseeing the economic issues connected to the Israeli withdrawal, could face significant challenges in carrying out his plan — especially the cost.

Peres said roughly $120 million is needed to improve the three main crossings. He said the money would be used on new technology that would allow goods to move quickly in and out of Gaza, and to reduce the wait times for Palestinian labourers entering Israel.

Israeli officials already have begun making improvements to the Erez crossing, the main entry point for Palestinian labourers.

A concrete shell that will become a high-tech pedestrian crossing is under construction. Israeli officials said the terminal is expected to facilitate passage of 20,000 to 30,000 workers a day, three times the number permitted now.

But Israel’s main concern is keeping Palestinian attackers out. About 100 suicide bombers have infiltrated Israel from the West Bank during more than four years of conflict, but the current, relatively simple fence around Gaza has prevented most infiltrations by armed Palestinians.

On Thursday the military laid out its plans for the new barrier, including new army bases and seven metre concrete walls around nearby Israeli communities to stop Palestinian sniper fire.

The new Gaza barrier draws on experience from the West Bank barrier Israel is building and the high-tech border fence with Lebanon, the army said, but it will be more advanced.

Palestinians trying to infiltrate into Israel — like a would-be suicide bomber who managed to penetrate the old fence with wire cutters last week before being captured — will first encounter fence made of coils of razor wire.

They would then have to cross a patrol road before reaching the current barrier, a fence with electronic sensors that sends a signal to a central command whenever it is touched or cut.

If they pass this barrier, they would have to traverse a 130-metre swath of land — codenamed Hoover — filled with motion sensors and scanned by an array of day and night optical devices, before reaching the third and newest electronic fence.

Watchtowers armed with remote-controlled machine guns are to be built every two kilometres and within a year, remote-controlled unmanned vehicles will begin patrolling the area.

Running about 60 kilometers around the seaside territory, the new barrier will cost about $220 million and will be completed by mid-2006, military officials said.

In the central Gaza refugee camp of Bureij on Thursday, Palestinians kidnapped a Palestinian intelligence officer, residents said. The background was not known.

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