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Israel Vows to Continue Building Controversial Security Barrier - 2003-10-22


Israel says it will continue to build its controversial security barrier, despite an overwhelming vote in the U.N. General Assembly condemning the project, and demanding that Israel halt construction and dismantle parts of the wall already built in Palestinian areas.

Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed the lopsided U.N. vote - 144-4, with 12 abstentions - and described the world body as routinely hostile towards Israel. Mr. Olmert told Israel Radio the government will press ahead with the security barrier.

Israel says the barrier is necessary to keep out potential Palestinian terrorists and to protect Israeli lives. According to opinion polls, most Israelis support building a barrier, as do most political figures.

The barrier is part electronic fence topped with razor wire and part concrete wall, interspersed with watch towers. Construction began more than a year ago.

The barrier was to be built more or less along the so-called Green Line, the old Israel-Jordan border that divides Israel from the territories of the West Bank. But the barrier reaches far into Palestinian land in some areas to encompass Jewish settlements. It often cuts off Palestinian villages from each other, Palestinian farmers from their fields, and children from their schools.

While Israelis just call it "the fence," Palestinians mostly refer to it as the apartheid or Berlin wall. They say it is just the latest Israeli land grab that will have to be negotiated in the future and might not easily be undone.

In an Israeli newspaper interview last week, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon repeated his determination to press ahead with the security barrier to block out militants and also to prevent a continued influx of Palestinians, who he said are moving into Arab towns in Israel. The Prime Minister repeated those views in a speech to parliament on Monday.

The United States has been critical of some security barrier locations, but the U.S. ambassador voted against the General Assembly resolution condemning the barrier.

The Palestinian Authority hailed the U.N. vote, and Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said it was morally just. He also said Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Olmert's pledge to ignore the resolution shows Israel gives little importance to international legitimacy.

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