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Israel Expects World Court Will Hear Case on Security Barrier - 2004-02-01

Israel says it expects judges at The Hague will press ahead with a hearing on the West Bank security barrier, despite mounting international opposition.

Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry legal adviser Alan Baker says it is unlikely the International Court of Justice will cancel a planned hearing this month on the controversial West Bank security barrier.

Mr. Baker made his comments after more than 30 nations, including the United States, lodged objections against the court's authority to rule on the case. In addition to the United States, the nations include 15 members of the European Union, Russia, Canada, Australia and South Africa.

The United States says the issue should be resolved in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The hearing was scheduled in response to a petition from the U.N. General Assembly asking the court to give an opinion on whether the barrier is lawful.

But U.N. officials say they cannot ignore the growing opposition, a sentiment echoed by Israel's justice minister, Tommy Lapid.

"We do not think that the International Court at The Hague has the competence to deal with this issue," he said. "It is not a question of justice, but a political question, and therefore they should not take up the case."

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat disagrees. He says that, in the end, the case will proceed and that Israel will have to cooperate.

"They [the Israelis] can not stop it," said Mr. Arafat. "This is a United Nations resolution. They are trying to put all the obstacles in front of this court. But not to forget, this is a United Nations resolution and they have to carry on with it."

Mr. Arafat says Israel wants to use the barrier to seize more land and unilaterally determine the boundaries of a future Palestinian state.

Israel denies the claims. It says the project must be completed to stop Palestinians from crossing into the Jewish state to carry out suicide bombings and other terror attacks.