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Israel Rejects UN Court Ruling on Barrier - 2004-07-09

Israel has rejected the decision by the International Court of Justice that the West Bank barrier is illegal and said it will not act on it. But Palestinian officials welcomed the ruling and said they will press the issue further at the United Nations.

Palestinian leaders hailed the non-binding decision of the International Court of Justice, which ruled that Israel's West Bank security barrier is illegal and must be dismantled in some areas.

The court also ruled that Israel must pay compensation to Palestinians for land confiscated from them for the building of the barrier.

The Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, says the decision is historic, while Palestinian Minister for Negotiations, Saeb Erekat, says the issue must now be debated again at the United Nations.

"This advisory opinion will go back to the General Assembly," he said. "What we will seek to do as Palestinians, number one is to put this advisory opinion to each individual member of the General Assembly - there are 189 nations there - to ask them where do you stand on this, either with it or against it? Secondly the Security Council is an option for us."

Israeli officials oppose such a move. The Israeli foreign ministry's legal advisor, Alan Baker, says that such issues must be decided between Israel and the Palestinians in bilateral negotiations and not in international forums.

Mr. Baker says he hopes that leading nations in the U.N. will prevent the Palestinians from further politicizing the world body. "I think serious states will want to encourage the U.N. and the Palestinians to put more attention on the peace process, to urge the Palestinians to get back to negotiating directly with Israelis rather than playing political games in the U.N.," he said.

In other reaction, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that the international court had no authority to deal with disputes between Israel and the Palestinians.

He said Israel, therefore, has no intention of acting on the ruling.

Israeli officials say they recognize that some Palestinians are suffering hardship because of the barrier, and changes are being made to the route in order to ease their plight.

At the same time, the officials insist that the barrier is not aimed at seizing land but only to halt Palestinian terror.

Israel says that the barrier is already proving effective, stopping all Palestinian suicide bombers from entering the country in the areas where the project has been completed.