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Israel Challenges Court on Security Barrier - 2004-01-30

Israel has challenged the International Court of Justice's right to rule on the legality of the controversial West Bank security barrier. Israel's appeal came in documents presented to the court on Friday, ahead of next month's scheduled hearing of a petition against the project.

Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry officials say the International Court of Justice at The Hague is not the forum for deciding whether the security barrier is lawful.

One Israeli official told reporters the court should not and cannot deal with this political issue.

He says the matter can only be resolved through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The official spoke after Israel stated its official opposition in an affidavit presented to the court on Friday.

The challenge is a response to a petition lodged by the U.N. General Assembly, which has asked the court to rule on whether Israel is legally required to tear down the barrier.

A hearing is scheduled to open on February 23 to discuss the legality of the project.

Israel is not alone in objecting to the case being heard at The Hague.

Britain, which says it is against the project, nevertheless opposes having the matter dealt with by the International Court of Justice.

British officials say such a hearing will only serve to politicize the court and undermine its legitimacy.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, who visited Israel this week, said that while he objected to the planned route of the fence, he also opposes the issue being dealt with at The Hague.

The Palestinian leadership hopes the court backs its claim that the project constitutes a breach of international law.

Palestinian officials say the barrier amounts to an attempt by Israel to seize more land and unilaterally determine the borders of a future Palestinian state.

Israel rejects the accusations.

Israel says the barrier, which is being built in and around the West Bank, is necessary to stop Palestinians from crossing over into the Jewish State to carry out suicide bombings and other terror attacks.

Israeli officials say the killing of at least 10 Israelis on Thursday by a Palestinian suicide bomber on a bus in Jerusalem, further illustrates the need to complete the project.