After talks with the visiting Israeli Foreign Minister, US Secretary of State, Colin Powell on Wednesday questioned the usefulness of the 116 km long fence that Israel insists on building.

“My colleague is aware of the concerns that we have about the fence,” Powell said, referring to the Israeli Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom.

“It needs to be asked if the fence helps the process as we move forward towards peace with the Palestinians,” the Secretary of State added.

In Washington to prepare for next week’s US visit by the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Foreign Minister defended the fence’s construction.

“It will prevent those terrorists from implementing attacks against Israelis,” Shalom said. 

But concerns persist and Palestinians view the Israeli wall as a ploy to imprison them. Once ringed by the fence, Palestinians fear they could be trapped.

The wall has also swallowed up large chunks of Palestinian territory causing many families to complain that it is another excuse for Israel to confiscate Palestinian land.

Saeb Erekat, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council told Al Jazeera:

“Building the security wall is the bridge linking Bush’s idea of ‘the state with temporary borders’ to Sharon’s idea of a long-term interim phase, in which talks over Jerusalem, borders, Palestinian detainees and refugees are halted."

“By doing this, Israel is destroying the Palestinians’ hopes of building an independent state,” he added. 

Powell however reiterated that the Palestinian Authority must act more decisively against Palestinian resistance groups.

'My colleague is aware of the concerns that we have about the fence'

--Colin Powell

“We know that much more work has to be done with respect to rooting out any capability for terrorism on the part of any organisation on the Palestinian side,” Powell said.

Settler poll

Meanwhile, a survey by Israel’s Peace Now movement showed the support for an independent Palestinian state to be rapidly growing even among Jewish settlers.

A significant 44 percent said Palestinians deserved an independent state, compared to only 19 percent in last year’s survey.

Two-thirds of the Jewish settlers also favoured the dismantling of the illegal outposts in the West Bank and 71 percent of them believed that Israel should reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Illegal outposts are only those settlements set up without the approval of the Israeli government. But under international law all settlements built on land occupied by Israel since 1967 are illegal.

Search operation

Israeli security forces are continuing their search for a went missing two days ago.

Twenty-year old Oleg Shayhat went missing on Monday after leaving his base in Safed.

Israel says it is not ruling out the possibility that he could have been captured by a Palestinian group.