Israel said it has no intention of halting work on its West Bank barrier as the world court was set to rule it contravenes international law and that parts built on Palestinian land should be dismantled.
"Israel has no reason to submit to a plainly absurd decision which pays no account to the role of the security fence in the fight against terrorism," a senior government official told AFP on condition of anonymity as leaked copies of the verdict were widely published on the Internet.
The court said in a ruling, that is merely advisory, that "the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying power, in the occupied Palestinian territory" was "contrary to international law", according to the leaks.
"It (Israel) is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, (and) to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated."
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN's highest legal body, also said in the much-anticipated verdict that Israel should pay compensation to Palestinians whose property had been damaged by the construction work.
MAKE LOVE NOT WALLS
A boy rides his bicycle along a part of Israel's controversial security barrier which separates east Jerusalem from the West Bank town of Abu Dis July 9, 2004. The slogan reads: Make Love Not Walls. The World Court ruled on Friday that Israel's West Bank barrier, which has wrought hardship for thousands of Palestinians, violates international law and should be torn down. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause
"Israel is under an obligation to make reparation for all damage caused by the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem," it said.
It also called for the UN General Assembly and Security Council to take action to halt the construction work.
"The United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, should consider what further action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall."
Even before reports of the verdict emerged, the Israeli government had made clear it had no intention of halting construction work which is due to be completed by the end of next year and should eventually stretch for some 700 kilometers (430 miles).
While the Palestinians say its route -- which often juts deep into the West Bank -- shows its real intent is to pre-empt the borders of their promised future state, the Israelis point to a marked downfall in suicide attacks as proof of its success so far.
Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner said the ICJ had "no jurisdiction" to rule over the barrier and said that it should only come up for debate after Israel's planned pullout of the Gaza Strip is completed next year.
"It will be up to us and the Palestinians, together, as part of an agreement that I hope will come after the withdrawal from Gaza to discuss all questions, including this anti-terrorist barrier," he told Radio France Internationale.
Justice Minister Tommy Lapid told reporters that "the only decision that matters for the government is the verdict of the supreme court".
Judges at Israel's highest court ruled last month that part of the barrier -- a montage of electric fencing, barbed wire and concrete wall -- should be rerouted north of Jerusalem because it infringed the rights of some 35,000 Palestinian inhabitants.
But the supreme court also confirmed in effect the government's right to build the barrier on security grounds.
A senior Palestinian official, who also requested anonymity, expressed delight at the prospect of the world court's verdict which he said represented "a great victory for the Palestinians".
The ICJ said in a statement that it was aware that "various documents are being disseminated on the Internet by a number of organizations regarding the advisory opinion which the court is to render on Friday", and emphasized that "the only authentic text is the official text issued by the court".
The opinion was scheduled to be read at a public hearing in The Hague at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT), and was then to be posted on the ICJ's website.
The verdict comes after three days of hearings into the barrier's legality back in February that were boycotted by the Israelis.
On the domestic political front, opposition leader Shimon Peres said Friday he would insist the pullout from Gaza be coordinated with the Palestinians as his price for joining a new coalition government.
"We are going to demand that the withdrawal be accelerated and that it must be done in coordination with the Palestinians," Peres told public radio.
His comments come after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon confirmed in a speech late Thursday that he had "scheduled a meeting with Shimon Peres for Sunday in order to discuss the possibility of widening the coalition."
In the latest violence, a suspected Palestinian militant was shot dead in the southern West Bank city of Hebron on Friday by Israeli soldiers who had come to arrest him, military sources said.
© Copyright 2004 AFP