Frustration was heightened among Palestinians on Wednesday after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defiantly vowed to continue erecting the apartheid wall in the occupied West Bank separating it from Israel.

 

Islamic Jihad leader Muhammad al-Hindi compared the structure to the Berlin Wall, which cut off East Germany from West Germany until 1989.

 

He also accused Israel of trying to incite a civil war among Palestinians.

 

"They need civil war and don't want to give Abu Mazen anything," said al-Hindi, in referrence to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas.

 

Hamas leader Abd al-Aziz Rantissi echoed this stance. "The Americans need what the Israelis need-a civil war in the Palestinian territories," he said.

 

Al-Hindi said Israel's stubborn stance threatened a truce declared by Palestinian resistance groups to halt attacks because "the dangers are very close to harming our hopes and goals".

 

"Road map" concerns

 

Sharon's apartheid wall is seen
as a barrier to peace

Palestinian government officials joined in the chorus of criticisms.

 

Palestinian Security chief Muhammad Dahlan said Sharon's stance indicates he is not serious about implementing the US-backed "road map" aimed at ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

 

"This wall will only increase hatred between the Palestinian and Israeli sides because it is a racist, separation wall, " he said.

 

Sharon, speaking on Tuesday in Washington following talks with US President George Bush, vowed to plough ahead with plans for the wall, saying "good fences make good neighbours".

 

Palestinians say the barrier is an Israeli attempt to set in stone the borders of a future Palestinian state. Sharon's government claims the wall is merely intended to prevent Palestinian resistance fighters from entering Israel.

 

"If the wall is about security, why does it absorb Palestinian villages?" asked Dahlan. "Who will look after for these people?"

 

Dahlan said if Israel insisted on building a barrier it should be along the 1967 border, before Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

 

Blair's misgivings 

Britain joined the United States in expressing reservations over the barrier. Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair said he has expressed his "misgivings" over the wall.

"What we don't want is a situation where, de facto, the
boundaries are changed, because that would mean that a peace settlement is less likely and less possible," he said.

In other developments, Dahlan is expected to urge Israel to withdraw from the West Bank city of Ram Allah and Qalqilya or Nablus during scheduled talks with Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz later on Wednesday.