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Palestinians Take Israeli Barrier Issue to UN Security Council

The top Palestinian diplomat at the United Nations has accused Israel of using its planned pullout from Gaza as a cover for expanding West Bank settlements and extending a wall around Jerusalem. Israel's envoy dismissed the charge, and urged Palestinian leaders to focus on eradicating terrorism.

A regular Security Council briefing on the Middle East Thursday became a forum for charges and counter-charges about Israeli and Palestinian actions and intentions.

Senior U.N. envoy to the region Alvaro de Soto opened the session with a note of cautious optimism. In his first presentation to the Council, he hailed the forthcoming Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, saying it overshadows all other issues.

But Arab nations asked to bring up another matter: the Israeli cabinet's approval of final details of a separation barrier that will cut off more than 50,000 Palestinians from Jerusalem.

Palestinian U.N. representative Somaia Barghouti charged Israel with using the Gaza withdrawal to divert attention from the barrier extension, and for expanding settlements in the West Bank.

"While the international community is focusing its efforts on the success of Israel's exit from Gaza and some areas in the north of the West Bank, Israel, the occupying power, is taking accelerating steps to expand its expansionist colonialist plan through expanding colonial settlement, accelerating the building of the wall and isolating the occupied part of Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank," he said.

Israeli ambassador, Dan Gillerman, immediately issued a sharp reply. He called it "almost cynical" that the Palestinian delegate would criticize the barrier at a time of deteriorating security. He defended the planned extension, calling it a necessary defensive measure.

"The reality is that the fence works," he said. "It saves hundreds of lives. There has been a reduction of over 90 percent in successful terrorist attacks, a 70 percent reduction in citizens killed, and an 85 percent reduction in the number of wounded - all of which can be attributed directly to the effectiveness of the security fence."

U.N. envoy de Soto, in his briefing, noted the erosion of a de facto ceasefire with a recent surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence. He said relations between the two sides are being marred by the lack of a framework agreement on the Israeli pullout.

"The unease, suspicion and cynicism that bedevil Israeli-Palestinian relations can be attributed in large part to the fact that the disengagement is not taking place within an unequivocally agreed framework for the next steps toward the overall solution to which both sides claim adherence, that is, two states living alongside each other in peace," he said.

Mr. de Soto urged Israel to do more to support Palestinian efforts to counter militancy and extremism. He said "Israelis need to be assured of their security, and Palestinians need to be provided with hope."