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UN to Debate Israel's Controversial Security Barrier - 2003-10-10

The U.N. Security Council will hold an open session next week on Israel's construction of a security barrier that cuts into the West Bank.

The decision to hold an open debate on the barrier came Friday, after what one diplomat called a contentious closed meeting.

The Syrian-sponsored resolution up for discussion describes the Israeli barrier that juts into the largely-Palestinian West Bank as an expansionist conquest wall.

As they entered the Council chamber for the closed meeting, Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors engaged in a show of verbal hostilities.

A clearly angry Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman objected to both the timing of the resolution and its reference to the barrier as a wall, with its obvious Cold War implications. "This is no separation wall. This is a security fence. Just to make things very very clear, a separation wall, if you take the example of the Berlin Wall, was a wall built to separate one people from each other, and to prevent people from fleeing to freedom. The security fence we're building is to separate two people who are at war with each other, and to prevent crazy, fanatic, extremist suicide bombers from infiltrating Israel and blowing up babies and children," he said.

The Palestinian ambassador, Nasser al-Kidwa, ridiculed the notion of a security fence. He called construction of the barrier an attempt to annex a huge chunk of Palestinian land.

"It has nothing to do with security. Otherwise, it would have run along the armistice line, the border of 1967. This is an expansionist conquest wall that aims only at annexing additional Palestinian land and protecting illegal settlements," he said.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said Washington has made clear that it has problems with the barrier. But he chastised a reporter who asked why the United States has consistently opposed anti-Israel resolutions.

"We don't think one-sided resolutions help solve this situation in any way whatsoever. But that doesn't mean we're not committed to the peace process. We think both sides should avoid actions to escalate the situation, and we've said we don't think building this fence is consistent with a vision of a Palestinian state living side-by-side with its neighbor, Israel," he said.

Syria's request for Security Council action came a week after Israel's Cabinet approved extension of a barrier that would sweep around Jewish settlements deep in the West Bank. The barrier is already nearly 150 kilometers long. When completed, it could run more than three times that length.