Israel defies UN vote against West Bank barrier
Israel vowed on Wednesday to press ahead with construction of its West Bank barrier despite a U.N. resolution demanding that it be torn down, but Palestinians called for international sanctions to force compliance.
"Building of the fence will go on," Raanan Gissin, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told Reuters hours after the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to press Israel to obey a World Court ruling declaring the barrier illegal.
Israel calls the project a bulwark against Palestinian suicide bombers. Palestinians condemn it as an "apartheid wall" that takes away land they want for a future independent state.
Gissin said Israel was not surprised by the non-binding U.N. decision, calling it a "tyranny of the majority" in the General Assembly, where sentiment often runs against the Jewish state.
The vote was 150 in favor of the Palestinian-sponsored resolution to six against, including Israel's main ally, the United States, and 10 abstentions.
All 25 European Union voted in favor of the measure -- a move which one senior Israeli official called disappointing.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, an aide to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, hailed the General Assembly's decision as a "victory for the Palestinian people" and called for sanctions to enforce it.
"The U.N. Security Council must now take steps to implement the General Assembly's decision to remove the wall," he said.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit echoed the Palestinian call for action, urging the United Nations and the international community to "bear their responsibility."
The resolution, like the World Court ruling, is not legally binding but carries symbolic weight. Only the 15-nation Security Council can take action against Israel, but as a permanent member, the United States would be certain to veto it.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY ACTS
The World Court ruled earlier this month that construction of the 370-mile barrier, which is about a third built and cuts into West Bank land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, violated international humanitarian law.
But Israel, backed by the United States, flatly rejected the ruling by the U.N.'s highest tribunal.
"Israel will not stop building (the barrier) or abdicate its inalienable right to self-defense," Gissin said on Wednesday.
But he reaffirmed the government's intention to reroute the barrier in line with a recent Israeli High Court order to minimize hardships to Palestinians.
The U.N. resolution demanded Israel comply with the World Court finding it was legally obliged to dismantle the barrier and pay reparations for damages caused during construction.
But under a concession to the EU after intense negotiations, the measure also condemned all acts of terrorism and urged both Israel and the Palestinians to meet obligations under the U.S.-backed "road map" to peace, now stalled by violence.
Australia, which voted against the measure, said it backed Israel's construction of the barrier but that the structure should not cross into occupied territories.
"Israel must find ways of defending itself against terrorists," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in Canberra.