JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel decided on Wednesday to start building a reinforced barrier along parts of its porous border with Egypt in a bid to prevent infiltration attempts by Palestinian militants, an official told AFP.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his defence and foreign ministers decided on the move after a three-hour meeting at the premier's office, a senior government official told AFP.
"Israel will soon begin constructing two sections of the fence" following a plan presented at the meeting by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The first section will be near the southern Red Sea resort town of Eilat and the second near the area of Nitzana in the centre of the 250 kilometre- (150-mile) desert border, he said.
Government spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment on the meeting.
The encounter, which also included senior security officials, came a day after the Islamist Hamas movement claimed responsibility for Monday's deadly suicide bombing in Israel, the first such attack in a year.
A 73-year-old woman was killed in the bombing in Dimona.
The attack came after a near two-week border breach between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, raising fears in Israel that Hamas militants were among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who poured into the Sinai when the border was open.
Hamas said on Tuesday that two of its members from the occupied West Bank had carried out the bombing, the first time that it claimed responsibility for a suicide blast inside Israel in three and a half years.
At Wednesday's meeting security officials presented intelligence reports indicating that dozens of Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip had scattered across the Sinai desert after militants blew open the border on January 23, the official said.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni recommended during the meeting that Israel support Egypt's request to double its forces along its border with Gaza from the current 750 to 1,500, an official in her ministry told AFP.
The meeting came a day after Israel pounded Hamas positions in its Gaza Strip bastion, killing nine Palestinian militants as the Islamist movement said it was behind the suicide bombing in Dimona in Israel's Negev desert.
It was the first time since August 2004 that Hamas, which seized control last June of the territory sandwiched between Israel and Egypt from forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, claimed responsibility for a suicide attack.
Israel has increasingly tightened restrictions on movement around Gaza since the second Palestinian uprising began in September 2000, notably in June 2006 after militants seized an Israeli soldier in a deadly cross-border raid and a year later when Hamas seized power.
The measures culminated in a full-scale lockdown imposed on January 17 that was eased five days later amid mounting international concern over a humanitarian crisis in the territory where most residents depend on aid.
The Israeli military kept up its strikes on Hamas on Wednesday, wounding two militants in an air raid on an Islamist position in the north, Palestinian medics said.
The army said the raid "targeted a Qassam- (rocket) launching cell immediately after they fired rockets into Israel."
Hamas's armed wing said it fired four rockets and mortar rounds into Israel on Tuesday. The army said the projectiles struck without causing casualties.
The latest violence in and around Gaza came after a two-week lull that accompanied the breach of the impoverished territory's border with Egypt.
Gaza militants blew open the border barrier on January 23 in a bid to counter the punishing Israeli blockade, but the frontier was resealed by Egyptian and Hamas forces at the weekend.
During the two-week breach hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are estimated to have entered Egypt from Gaza to stock up on supplies.
The idea of building a reinforced barrier along the Egyptian border was first raised in Israel several years ago, but was eventually abandoned because of the high cost.
A defence ministry spokesman told AFP that a reinforced border fence could cost at least 500 million dollars and take up to two years to construct.
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