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UN assembly tells Israel to tear down barrier
Updated: 2004-07-21 09:00

Israel must obey a World Court ruling and tear down its West Bank barrier, the U.N. General Assembly demanded in a resolution adopted by an overwhelming vote on Tuesday.

The vote in the 191-nation assembly was 150-6, with 10 abstentions, to adopt the measure aimed at dismantling the 370-mile barrier that Israel says is needed to keep out suicide bombers but Palestinians see as a land-grab aimed at dashing their hopes for eventual statehood.

Palestinian U.N. observer Nasser al-Kidwa (R) looks up at the voting board at the United Nations General assembly in New York on July 20, 2004. The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to demand that Israel obey a World Court ruling and tear down its West Bank barrier. The vote in the 191-nation assembly was 150-6, with 10 abstentions. [Reuters]
All 25 European Union countries voted in support of the Palestinian-drafted measure after its Arab sponsors accepted a series of EU amendments over days of intense negotiations.

However, the United States, Israel's closest ally, voted "no" after U.S. Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham warned the resolution was unbalanced and could further undermine the goal of a Middle East in which Israeli and Palestinian states lived side by side in peace.

"All sides are now focused on Gaza and partial West Bank withdrawal as a way to restart the progress toward this vision," Cunningham told the assembly.

Israel also voted 'no,' along with Australia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau.

Abstaining were Canada, Cameroon, El Salvador, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Uganda, Uruguay and Vanuatu.

"Thank God that the fate of Israel and of the Jewish people is not decided in this hall," Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman said after the vote. "When all is said and done, it is simply outrageous to respond with such vigor to a measure that saves lives and respond with such casual indifference and apathy to a Palestinian campaign that takes lives."


Palestinian U.N. observer Nasser al-Kidwa praised the vote as "a historic development."

"This indeed could be the most important resolution of the General Assembly since the adoption of Resolution 181 of 1947," he said. That measure called for the partition of British-ruled Palestine into independent Jewish and Arab states.

The General Assembly acted after the World Court ruled in a July 9 "advisory opinion" that the barrier, which is still under construction, was illegal because it cut deep into West Bank land to shield settlements built by Israel on territory it seized in the 1967 Middle East War.

The court, formally known as the International Court of Justice and based in The Hague, is the top U.N. legal body.

The assembly resolution, like the court ruling, is not legally binding but carries great symbolic weight in the international community.

A Palestinian man watches the construction works of Israel's 'security' barrier in the West Bank town of Abu Dis on the edge of Jerusalem. [AFP/File]

The resolution demanded that Israel comply with the court finding that it was legally obliged to dismantle the barrier and pay reparations for damages caused during construction.

In response to EU proposals, it also condemned all acts of terrorism and urged both Israel and the Palestinians to meet their obligations under the road map to peace set out by the quartet of Middle East mediators -- the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia.

Sponsors also accepted an EU demand that the measure specify that states have the right to defend themselves against attacks on their people. A section of the court ruling had suggested that under the U.N. Charter, a state had the right to defend itself against an attack from another state but not, for example, from a suicide bomber.

The measure also softened a demand that Switzerland, as keeper of the Fourth Geneva Convention, convene a meeting of parties to the treaty to ensure it was being observed.

The final version said only that Switzerland could consider convening such a meeting. The 1949 pact deals with the protection of civilians in time of war. A key provision bars a government building settlements on land acquired by force.

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