An Israeli newspaper on Thursday quoted unnamed security sources as saying the army was proposing a wall to divide Hebron into two parts - the Israeli-controlled side and the Palestinian Authority-administered side.

As many as 500 Jewish settlers, many of them religious students studying at a local Talmudic school, or Yeshiva, live in the city under constant army protection amid the estimated 170,000 Palestinians, making up the population of Hebron.
 
According to security officials, interviewed by the Haaretz newspaper, the Israeli army has already presented a plan for the construction of the wall to Israeli Attorney-General Menachem Mazus for a ruling.

Idea

The Israeli army has confirmed the Haaretz report in principle.
 

Palestinians fear the wall will
lead to ethnic cleansing

Eitan Arusi, an Israeli army spokesman, told Aljazeera.net's Khalid Amayreh that the army was "entertaining an idea to resolve the friction between Arabs and Jews in Hebron".
 
"It is only an idea, it is not a plan, there are no blueprints or anything like that," he said.

Amayreh said the construction of the wall would ghettoise and in effect cut off about 30,000 Palestinians living in the old town from the rest of the city.

Palestinians also fear the erection of such a separation barrier would lead to a gradual but massive ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, especially in the vicinity of the Ibrahimi mosque.

Gigantic catastrophe 

Israel is already erecting a barrier inside the West Bank, which it says helps stop Palestinian resistance fighters from reaching its cities.

The International Court of Justice has said the project, being built on land Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, is illegal.

Hebron mayor Mustafa Abd al-Nabi al-Natsha told Aljazeera.net the construction of such a wall in Hebron would be a "gigantic catastrophe".

"They want to decimate the lives of 170,000 Palestinians for the sake of 400 Jewish fanatics"

Mustafa Abd al-Nabi al-Natsha,
Hebron mayor

"It would distort, deform and disfigure one of the world's most ancient towns; it would be a real crime against humanity," said al-Natsha.
 
He added that it would be "a thousand times worse than the Berlin wall".
 
"They want to decimate the lives of 170,000 Palestinians for the sake of 400 Jewish fanatics," he said.
 
The mayor said he was making contacts with the Palestinian Authority and other "international sides" to warn them against this "brewing Nakba".
 
Nakba, or catastrophe, is the name Palestinians use when referring to their expulsion from what is now Israel when it was created in 1948.