U.N. demands Israel tear down Gaza barrier

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution Tuesday demanding that Israel comply with a world court decision and tear down the barrier it is building to seal off the West Bank.

The 150-6 vote was opposed by the United States, which argued that the resolution was unbalanced. Ten countries abstained.

The assembly's vote, like the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, is not legally binding. But both have symbolic value as international statements of condemnation of the barrier.

The 191-member world body voted after lengthy negotiations between the Arab League and the European Union. The talks resulted in a revised text accepted by both groups.

Palestinian U.N. observer Nasser Al-Kidwa said the court's opinion and the resolution could be "the most important" since the General Assembly's 1947 partition of Palestine to allow the creation of the Jewish state of Israel.

The court, as well as the resolution, demand that the barrier be dismantled and reparations be paid to Palestinians harmed by its construction.

"It's time now, we believe, for implementation, for compliance, and at a later stage, for additional measures," Al-Kidwa said, praising "the magnificent results that were achieved today in support of international law and in support of peace and reconciliation in the Middle East."

Israel has refused to recognize the July 9 world court ruling, saying it has no authority to deal with the issue, and officials have ordered construction of the barrier to go on.

The Israeli Supreme Court, however, has ordered the army to change the route of a 20-mile stretch of the barrier near Jerusalem, saying it was causing hardship on the local Palestinian population.

Israeli U.N. ambassador Dan Gillerman called the resolution "one-sided and totally counterproductive" and said construction of the barrier will continue to keep out Palestinian attackers.

"It is simply outrageous to respond with such vigor to a measure that saves lives and respond with such casual indifference and apathy to the ongoing campaign of Palestinian terrorism that takes lives. This is not justice but a perversion of justice," he said.

U.S. deputy ambassador James Cunningham said the vote "politicizes" the court's opinion and "diverts attention" from a political settlement that must be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians.

"The United States remains convinced that the focus must remain on President Bush's vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security," he said.

Gillerman predicted the resolution will "complicate implementation" of a U.S.-backed road map for peacemaking.

The Palestinians say the current route of the wall amounts to a land grab because parts of the barrier are being built on West Bank land that Israel conquered in the 1967 Middle East war.

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