Israel has responded defiantly to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's condemnation of a security barrier it is building in the West Bank. Israel's Foreign Ministry said Saturday the project is vital to the security of the Jewish state and that it will not be halted by international criticism.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a strongly worded statement saying the separation barrier now under construction in the West Bank is irreplaceable and that building will continue.

The statement was issued in reaction to Mr. Annan's statement on Friday saying Israel is in violation of a U.N. General Assembly resolution demanding a halt to the project and the dismantling of those sections of the barrier already built.

U.N. Spokesman Fred Eckhard read out Mr. Annan's statement.

"The secretary-general's position has always been that the state of Israel has the legitimate right to live in peace and security," he said. "Nevertheless, he points out that this right should not be carried out in a way that is in contradiction to international law, that could damage the longer-term prospects for peace by making the creation of an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state more difficult, or increases suffering among the Palestinian people."

The Israeli Foreign Ministry says such criticism amounts to rewarding all who use terror as a means to realize their political aims.

Israel says the security barrier is a non-violent, efficient and proven method of curbing Palestinian terrorism against citizens of the Jewish state.

The Palestinian leadership says the project is an attempt by Israel to seize more land from the West Bank and to unilaterally determine a new political boundary.

Israel denies these claims, saying the barrier is meant only for security and can be taken down later, if and when a final peace treaty is reached with the Palestinians.