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World court rules Israel's barrier illegal
Updated: 2004-07-09 21:41

The World Court will rule on Friday that Israel's West Bank barrier, which has caused hardship for thousands of Palestinians, violates international law and should be torn down, a leaked copy of the ruling showed.

A spokesman for the European Commission said the decision seemed to confirm the European Union's view that the barrier was illegal and urged Israel to remove it from occupied territory.

An aerial view shows a concrete wall, part of Israel's controversial security barrier, which separates the West Bank from Israel, in east Jerusalem July 9, 2004. [Reuters]
Israel has said it will disregard the court's non-binding advisory decision, calling its barrier a vital security bulwark against infiltrations by Palestinian suicide bombers.

The court acknowledged Israel's duty to protect its citizens but said it must do so within the law and should compensate Palestinians for homes and land lost or damaged by the building of the 100-meter (yard) wide strip of walls, ditches and fences.

Palestinians brand the barrier a precursor to annexation of land Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and where they seek a viable state under a U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.

Only American judge Thomas Buergenthal dissented from his 14 international colleagues' opinion, the leaked document showed.

The leaked document said the court would declare fences and walls infringed the rights of Palestinians trapped by twists and turns in the barrier that take it around Jewish settlements.

"The construction of the wall along the route chosen and its associated regime are contrary to international law," said the document leaked to Reuters in Jerusalem before its slated 3 p.m. announcement in The Hague where the court is based.

"The court is not convinced that the construction of the wall along the route chosen was the only means to safeguard the interests of Israel against the peril it invoked as justification," the leaked document read.


The leaked text urged follow-up action by the U.N. General Assembly and U.N. Security Council, which could heighten Israeli concern about a move to impose sanctions on the Jewish state.

"The court is of the view that the United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and Security Council, should consider what further action is required to bring an end to the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall."

Palestinians tend to enjoy considerable support at the United Nations. But Israel looks to the U.S. veto in the Security Council to block any bid to punish it in the way that apartheid South Africa was after the World Court ruled its occupation of South West Africa, now Namibia, illegal in 1971.


The World Court, the top U.N. legal body formally known as the International Court of Justice, acknowledged documents had been circulated before its announcement but said in a statement: "The registrar of the court wishes to make it clear that the only authentic text is the official text issued by the court."

Israeli and Palestinian officials declined comment before the ruling was announced. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said on Thursday: "We put tremendous faith in this court."

The General Assembly requested an opinion in December and the Hague court held hearings in February overshadowed by public lobbying and demonstrations from both sides.

The ruling was expected to be one of the most closely monitored in the 58-year history of the World Court and attested to paralysis in Middle East peacemaking after years of violence.

Israeli officials say the barrier, about a third of whose planned more than 370-mile length has been built since 2002, has already pre-empted dozens of suicide bomb attacks. Such bombers have killed hundreds of Israelis.

"We will abide by the ruling of our own High Court and not the panel in The Hague with judges from the European Union who are not suspected of being particularly disposed toward Israel," Justice Minister Yosef Lapid told Israeli Army Radio Friday.

Five of the 15 judges are from the European Union.

Last week Israel's top court ordered one segment of the barrier re-routed to avoid cutting off Palestinian villagers from farms, jobs, public services and cities, but ruled Israel had a right to build it in the West Bank on security grounds.

European Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori said the EU had long felt the barrier's route did not adhere to the 1949 armistice line between Israel and the West Bank and that it could hinder peaceful solutions to the conflict.

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