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World Court Beginning Hearings on Israel's West Bank Barrier - 2004-02-23


The World Court in the Hague has opened three-days of 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 today (Monday), the head of the Palestinian delegation, Nasser al-Kidwa, said the barrier is not about security. He said it is aimed at entrenching Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands.

The Palestinian representative said that, if completed, the barrier would leave half of West Bank Palestinians "within isolated, non-contiguous, walled enclaves."

The World Court hearings will not result in a binding decision. Israel, which is refusing to take part in the proceedings, says its barrier is intended to prevent attacks like Sunday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed eight people.

An Israeli government statement said a ruling by the World Court on the barrier issue would undermine the internationally-backed "road map" peace plan.

In Ramallah, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said the barrier is 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 (confiscation of property) before borders can be set for a future Palestinian state.

Israeli plans call for the barrier eventually 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 "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.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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