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UN General Assembly Delays Vote on Israeli Security Barrier

The U.N. General Assembly has delayed a vote on a resolution condemning Israel's construction of a security barrier that juts into the West Bank. The measure is similar to one vetoed last week by the United States in the Security Council.

Arab countries Monday asked the General Assembly to declare the Israeli barrier a violation of international law. But after hours of heated arguments, debate on the measure was suspended, as sponsors considered suggested amendments that would also condemn terrorism.

A second proposal would also seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice at The Hague on whether the barrier must be taken down.

The barrier - in some places eight meters high and hundreds of meters wide - has enraged Israel's Arab neighbors. It is already 150 kilometers long, swerving deep into what had been Palestinian lands. When finished, it could stretch up to 500 kilometers.

Arab delegates, clearly frustrated by last week's U.S. veto of a similar Security Council resolution, charged that the wall would have catastrophic consequences. Palestinian Ambassador Nasser al-Kidwa, said, as long as the wall exists, there cannot be peace. "The wall is an immense war crime compounding the other war crime, that is the Israeli settlement of our lands. In addition to the countless other war crimes committed by the occupying power against the Palestinian people, the latest being the crime committed in the refugee camp of Rafah just a few days ago," he says.

Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman ridiculed the Palestinian arguments. In a reference to the General Assembly's overwhelming passage last month of another anti-Israel resolution, he called the body a 'rubber stamp.' He said consideration of such measures only weakens the United Nations.

"The call for yet another emergency special session of the General Assembly in violation of the very conditions set out in the Uniting for Peace procedure, has nothing to do with the so-called failure of the Security Council to adopt a resolution last week," says Mr. Gillerman. "Just as the pathetic call at the conclusion of the words you just heard by the world's foremost terrorist entity today for us to unite in peace has nothing to do with reality."

The debate was halted, however, as the sponsors were asked to consider amendments aimed at balancing the resolution with a denunciation of terrorist attacks on Israelis. Several European countries are also pressing for elimination of the second measure that would seek an advisory opinion from the international court.

The measure condemning the barrier is expected to pass easily in the General Assembly, where Palestinian causes enjoy wide support, and the United States does not have veto power. Unlike the Security Council, however, General Assembly resolutions are mostly symbolic, and do not have the force of law.

Sponsors of the measure say they hope to bring it to a vote by late Tuesday.