BIDOU, West Bank -- Israeli workers with chain saws cut down a Palestinian farmer's olive grove yesterday to make way for a West Bank security barrier, sparking a clash in which at least 15 Palestinian villagers and two Israeli police were wounded.
The wrecking crew later replanted some of the 180 stumps on another plot, but villagers gave the trees little or no chance of survival in the dry season.
Construction of the barrier has sparked almost daily clashes as it cuts through Palestinian farmland and isolates West Bank villages. Israel says the series of fences, trenches, and concrete walls are needed to stop Palestinian suicide bombers. The Palestinians denounce the barrier as a land grab.
The project is part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral plan of "disengagement" from the Palestinians. In addition to imposing a new boundary in the West Bank, Israel plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said he would meet with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on April 21, a week after Sharon holds talks with President Bush.
Palestinians say they welcome any Israeli withdrawal, but fear Israel is giving up Gaza to tighten its hold over much of the West Bank.
Sharon is seeking US endorsement for his plan. Shaath said US officials assured him they would not make a decision on the Gaza plan before hearing the Palestinian side. In weekend interviews, Sharon said the Gaza pullout would not take place until next year. He also said a West Bank redeployment would be minimal, an evacuation of only four of about 140 Jewish settlements there. Palestinians see the planned route of the barrier as part of Sharon's plan for retaining much of the West Bank.
Yesterday in Bidou, a wrecking crew with chain saws and five bulldozers cut down farmer Mahmoud Saadeh's olive trees. The Israelis later replanted about 40 of the trunks, apparently without the knowledge of the landowners. Troops and police fired steel-cored rubber bullets and tear gas at stone-throwing villagers, wounding at least 15 Palestinians, medics said. Two Israeli policemen were wounded by stone throwers.