Israel defies U.N. ruling on barrier

REUTERS

Wed 21 July, 2004 16:24

By Matt Spetalnick

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has vowed to press ahead with construction of its West Bank barrier despite a U.N. resolution demanding it be torn down, but Palestinians have called for international sanctions to force compliance.

Israel summoned key European Union ambassadors -- including Britain and the Netherlands, holder of the rotating EU presidency -- to protest against their governments' support for the Palestinian-sponsored resolution.

Israeli officials says the array of razor-tipped fences and concrete walls seals out Palestinian suicide bombers. Palestinians condemn it as an "apartheid wall" that takes away land they want for a future independent state.

The General Assembly voted 150-6, with 10 abstentions, on Tuesday to demand Israel obey a World Court ruling that declared the barrier illegal. The United States, Israel's main ally, stood with the Jewish state against the measure.

All 25 members of the EU, which is part of a "Quartet" of peace mediators, backed the resolution after its diplomat s convinced the Palestinians and their supporters to dilute the wording and include a condemnation of terrorism.

Diplomatic fallout was swift.

Israel's Foreign Ministry told top diplomats from the EU, Britain and the Netherlands the European bloc's support of resolution "raises doubts as to the ability of the European Union to constructively contribute towards advancing the peace process".

"Building of the fence will go on," Raanan Gissin, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told Reuters on Wednesday.

He said Israel was not surprised by the non-binding U.N. decision, calling it a "tyranny of the majority" in the General Assembly, where sentiment often runs against the Jewish state.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, an aide to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, hailed the General Assembly's decision as a "victory for the Palestinian people" and called for sanctions to enforce it.

"The U.N. Security Council must now take steps to implement the General Assembly's decision to remove the wall," he said .

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit echoed the Palestinian call for action, urging the United Nations and the international community to "bear their responsibility".

NON-BINDING

The resolution, like the World Court ruling, is not legally binding but carries symbolic weight. Only the 15-nation Security Council can take action against Israel, but as a permanent member, the United States would be certain to veto it.

The World Court ruled earlier this month that construction of the 600-km (370-mile) barrier, which is about a third built and cuts into West Bank land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, violated international humanitarian law.

But Israel, backed by the United States, flatly rejected the ruling by the U.N.'s highest tribunal.

"Israel will not stop building (the barrier) or abdicate its inalienable right to self-defence," Gissin said on Wednesday.

But he reaffirmed the government's intention to reroute the barrier in line with a recent Israeli High Court order to mi nimise hardships to Palestinians.

The U.N. resolution demanded Israel comply with the World Court finding it was legally obliged to dismantle the barrier and pay reparations for damages caused during construction.

But under a concession to the EU after intense negotiations, the measure also condemned all acts of terrorism and urged both Israel and the Palestinians to meet obligations under the U.S.-backed "road map" to peace, now stalled by violence.

Australia, which voted against the measure, said it backed Israel's construction of the barrier but said the structure should not cross into occupied territories.