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Red Cross Condemns Israeli Barrier

The International Committee of the Red Cross has sharply criticized the West Bank security barrier Israel is building, saying construction of the barrier in the occupied territories violates international humanitarian law. The International Court of Justice is to begin hearings on the barrier next week.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says Israel, in building the West Bank barrier, has gone far beyond what is permissible for an occupying power under international humanitarian law.

ICRC spokesman Florian Westphal says the Red Cross is increasingly concerned about the humanitarian impact of the barrier on Palestinians who live in the occupied territories.

"Many Palestinian residents, because of the barrier, do not have adequate access to basic services," he said. "We are talking water, health care, education and also to sources of income such as farming and other forms of employment. We are of the opinion that the barrier, as far as it deviates from the green line [separating Israel from the West Bank] into occupied territory, is actually contrary to international humanitarian law. We are saying that indeed it does violate international humanitarian law."

Israel says it needs the barrier to keep Palestinian suicide bombers out of its territory.

Mr. Westphal says the ICRC strongly condemns deliberate attacks against Israeli civilians. He says the Red Cross recognizes Israel's right to take measures to ensure the security of its population. But he adds these measures must respect international humanitarian law.

The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Yaakov Levy, says the ICRC's decision to go public threatens to undermine his country's good relationship with the organization.

He says Israel is mindful of the ICRC's concerns and tries to incorporate them into the structure of the barrier. But he says Israel's main concern remains the defense of Israelis against suicide bombings.

"Would the Palestinians not disrupt the lives of thousands of Israelis and send them to cemeteries and hospitals there would be no need to erect a fence," Mr. Levy said. "Were Israel to establish and erect a fence along the suggested 1967 line, then it would be a political barrier and that is not our intention. It is a defensive, temporary line as long as the threat of suicide bombings bedevils the lives of every Israeli in cafes, restaurants and universities."

The ICRC's public criticism of Israel goes against its usual practice of quiet diplomacy. The ICRC spokesman, Mr. Westphal, says the Red Cross has broken its silence because it hopes to prod the Israelis into constructing the barrier in conformity with international humanitarian law.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague is to begin hearings on the legality of the barrier on Monday. Mr. Westphal says the ICRC has not submitted an opinion to the court.