Israel has started preparations for the construction of the separation fence east of the West Bank Jewish town of Ariel, and also the Kedumim and Immanuel settlements. Two weeks ago, Defense Ministry officials sent Palestinian residents of the Salfit town, south of Ariel, preliminary appropriation orders for land upon which the fence is to be built.

This land appropriation move is at variance with the U.S. government’s understanding that such steps would not be taken in the foreseeable future, and that the separation fence project in these West Bank areas would be deferred.

Yet the move upholds a promise given by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which clinched the latter’s support for the disengagement plan: Sharon indicated to Netanyahu that the separation fence in the Ariel area would be completed before the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is finished.

Netzah Mashiah, who heads the Defense Ministry’s seam area authority, told Haaretz on Sunday that plans call for the completion of the separation fence east of Ariel, Immanuel and Kedumim by May 2005.

About two weeks ago, civil administration officials in this West Bank region met with Palestinian Authority delegates and presented the land appropriation orders, along with a map of the precise area slated for the fence – the area is 3.5 kilometers long, and 100 meters wide, and runs between Ariel and Salfit.

Appropriation orders for the Immanuel and Kedumim areas will be released in coming weeks. After these orders are issued, construction of the separation fence in the heart of the West Bank will begin


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