Wednesday, September 15, 2004

German minister backs Israel's fence

The controversial security fence Israel has been building as a defensive barrier against terrorist raids originating in Palestine has received support from a surprising source: Germany's Interior Minister Otto Schily.

Mr Schily is quoted in Deutsche Welle as saying that the barrier is effective because it has led to a drop in attacks on Israel. He also rejected comparisons between the Israeli fence and the Berlin Wall.

'Those who draw comparisons with the Berlin Wall are wrong, because it does not shut people in and deprive them of their freedom,' Schily told Deutschlandfunk radio on Monday, DW said. 'Its purpose is to protect Israel from terrorists.'

Speaking from Israel where he is attending an international conference on terrorism, Mr Schilly said the security barrier was the result of decades of failed efforts to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from crossing the border and attacking Israel.

'All the efforts undertaken over many years, even decades, have unfortunately failed to bear fruit,' he said, according to DW. 'So it is understandable that Israel should try to erect a protective barrier, which furthermore has shown it works, and I think that the criticism is far from the reality.'

In the radio interview, Schily also insisted the security barrier should be referred to as a 'fence' and not a 'wall,' as it is often called in Germany, DW said.

The statements were harshly criticised by Palestinian spokesmen who said the remarks were inconsistent with the official position of the German government. But a spokesman for the German foreign ministry indicated that the concerns Germany had over the fence were primarily about its route, not its construction, DW said.