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Sharon says he's ready to move West Bank barrier a little closer to Israel, wherever possible

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he is prepared to move a West Bank security barrier closer to Israel where possible to avoid trapping Palestinians in fenced-in enclaves.

Sharon's remarks were reported on the Web site of the Haaretz daily late Thursday, a day after the Supreme Court told the government it must pay more attention to the hardships the barrier could cause Palestinians.

In new fighting Friday, Israeli troops killed two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said. The clashes followed fighting Thursday that left eight Palestinians dead, including five militants killed during an attempted ambush.

Israel's high court had reviewed plans for a 25-mile section of the barrier near Jerusalem, and ordered the government to reroute most of it. The judges said the original path would have caused too much hardship to thousands of Palestinians and would have violated international law.

In response, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met with army planners Thursday and ordered them to review nearly all the 425-mile route, security officials said. They said the 25 percent of the barrier already built and judicially unchallenged would not be affected.

Security officials said the review would begin next week and was expected to last at least three months. Israel Radio said a new proposal for the 25-mile Jerusalem stretch is likely within two weeks.

The Haaretz Web site quoted Sharon as saying he is willing to accept changes.

``We need to simplify things and not create ... closed-off Palestinian enclaves since we have not succeeded in creating convenient conditions for moving through the fence,'' Sharon said.

About 25 percent of the barrier built has been built so far has severely disrupted the lives of Palestinians nearby. Children have to pass through army-operated gates to reach their schools, communities are encircled, farmers are cut off from their fields, commutes have lengthened considerably.

Sharon said that in areas not considered problematic, construction should begin immediately. ``In areas where we cannot compromise on security, don't make concessions,'' Sharon was quoted as saying.

``But in places where we can, we need to do as little damage as possible to the Palestinians' way of life, and we can move the fence a little closer to the Green Line.''

The Green Line was Israel's frontier before it captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel says the barrier is crucial for keeping out Palestinian militants who have killed hundreds of Israelis in nearly four years of fighting. Palestinians say the divider, which at times dips deep into the West Bank, amounts to a land grab.

Palestinian officials have said in the past they have no problem with a separation barrier, provided it is not built on West Bank land. However, Sharon has said he would not have the barrier run along the Green Line, for fear it would be interpreted as Israel's tacit agreement that this will be the future border.

Hassan Abu Libdeh, the Palestinian Cabinet secretary, said any route cutting into the West Bank is unacceptable. ``We will not accept the wall as long as it takes even a few centimeters of Palestinian territory,'' he said.

Next week, the world court at The Hague, Netherlands, is to issue an advisory ruling on the route, at the request of the Palestinians.

In Gaza, meanwhile, Israeli troops killed two Palestinians Friday. One man was killed near his home in the southern town of Khan Yunis, Palestinian medics said. The army said the man had entered an unauthorized area yards from a Jewish settlement.

Another Palestinian was killed by troops after being shot in the back in the Rafah refugee camp, Palestinian officials said. The army said there were repeated exchanges of fire in the area.

On Thursday, the army killed five Palestinian gunmen near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in central Gaza during a gunfight that lasted several hours.

Haaretz said three more Palestinians were killed around the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun. Neither the military nor Palestinian officials could confirm the deaths.
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