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World Court Opens Hearings on Israel's Security Barrier - 2004-02-23


The World Court in The Hague has opened hearings on the legality of the barrier Israel is building to limit access to its territory from the West Bank.

Speaking before the International Court of Justice on Monday, the head of the Palestinian delegation, Nassar al-Qidwa, said the barrier is not about security, but is aimed at entrenching Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands.

The three days of hearings will not result in a binding decision. But the Israeli government is refusing to take part in the proceedings.

Israel says the barrier is intended to prevent attacks like Sunday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem by barring potential attackers from gaining access to Israeli territory.

The suicide bomber who attacked a bus in Jerusalem killed himself and eight people and injured more than 60 others.

In a speech in Ramallah Monday, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said the barrier was aimed at preventing the creation of an independent Palestinian state. He also said peace between Israelis and Palestinians will be "impossible" as long as the barrier remains in place.

Legal experts who support the Palestinians contend the barrier violates international law. They say Israel's series of fences and walls at the edge of the West Bank amount to an illegal land grab before borders can be set for a future Palestinian state.

The barrier between Israeli and Palestinian land is intended to stretch more than 700 kilometers. About one-quarter of the project already has been completed. The United States and the European Union, backers of the so-called "road map" peace plan, have criticized the barrier, but they also say that involving the World Court in the dispute could complicate the peace process

Some information for this report provided by AFP, Reuters and AP.