UNITED NATIONS -- A senior U.N. official on Friday urged Israel to halt construction of the wall it is building to keep suicide bombers from entering the country because of its potentially devastating impact on the Palestinian people and the peace process.
"Suspending construction of the wall would contribute to the overall effort to improve security and humanitarian conditions and restart the political process," Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast told the Security Council.
Israel hopes the fence, and orders to shoot anyone who tries to cross it, will keep out suicide bombers. Palestinians say the wall, which frequently weaves into the West Bank, is a way of annexing land while delaying a peace deal that would set borders of a Palestinian state.
The Israeli government's goal is to completely cut Israel off from the West Bank with a fence 370 miles long -- although no one can say how long it will take. Only about 20 miles are finished, and an additional 100 miles partly built.
Prendergast noted that work began before the so-called "road map" to peace was accepted by the Israelis and Palestinians. As part of the plan, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has pledged to disarm violent Palestinian groups and to work to end terrorism -- though there have been major new attacks this week.
"While understanding the dilemma that Israel faces in deciding how to protect itself from terrorist attacks, nevertheless, in light of developments since construction on the wall began, we believe that work on the wall should be halted," Prendergast said.
Israel has formally seized thousands of acres of Palestinian farm land to build the barrier on.
Because the fence veers into the West Bank, about 95,000 Palestinians, or 4.5 percent of the Palestinian zone's population, could end up living in fenced-in enclaves off limits to nonresidents, according to a study by the European Union, U.S. government, World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
"It potentially separates tens of thousands of Palestinians from their agricultural lands, wells, markets, schools, health clinics and hospitals," Prendergast said.
"By the end of July, 12,000 Palestinians in 15 villages could find themselves wedged between the wall and the Green Line," he said. "A further 138,000 Palestinians in 16 localities could be surrounded on three sides by the wall."
The Green Line demarcated the frontier before Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.
Prendergast said the wall's construction could also have "obvious adverse implications for the peace process" given that it lies well inside the West Bank and not along the Green Line.
"It could easily be seen as jeopardizing the territorial contiguity of a Palestinian state and thereby inhibiting the establishment of a Palestinian state," he said.
© 2003 The Associated Press