JERUSALEM — Israel's construction of its West Bank barrier continued full force yesterday, hours after the U.N. General Assembly demanded the structure be torn down in compliance with a world court ruling.
Workers raised eight-metre-tall walls in Abu Dis, separating the Palestinian suburb from Jerusalem, a city Abu Dis residents depend on for employment and other services.
The United Nations General Assembly's 150-6 vote Tuesday, with 10 abstentions including Canada, reflected widespread opposition to the 720-kilometre barrier Israel says is needed to protect its citizens from suicide bombings. About 160 kilometres are already built.
Reaction to Israel's busy earth movers was swift and negative from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
In a statement, Straw said Britain has always recognized Israel's rights to defend itself against terrorists and build a wall along "internationally acknowledged borders or within Israeli territory.
"But Israel must act in accordance with international law ...," Straw said.
"We believe that the construction of this barrier on occupied territory, with the destruction of property and hardship that it entails, is unlawful."
Annan yesterday urged Israel to put aside its obvious unhappiness with non-binding rulings against the wall and to focus its energy on demolishing it.
"I think they should heed and pay attention to the (world) court's decision," Annan told reporters. "Even though it is not enforceable, it has some bearing on what they do."
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman, however, denounced the resolution as "one-sided and counterproductive." In Washington yesterday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan similarly dismissed the U.N. resolution.
"We've ... made it very clear that we believe the way to resolve the situation in the Middle East is through a political solution," he said.
The U.N. vote followed a similarly non-binding International Court of Justice ruling. Israel's Supreme Court recently ruled the wall violates international law and human rights in areas where it cuts Palestinians off from their lands, schools and other towns.
That ruling has forced Israel to re-route nearly the entire unbuilt portion of the barrier. The defence ministry is expected to reveal the new route this week.
Palestinians contend the barrier is a land grab meant to deprive them of a state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Meanwhile, political crisis continued in the West Bank with the Palestinian parliament urging President Yasser Arafat to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.
Unprecedented unrest against a Palestinian Authority widely seen as corrupt, resistant to reform and out of touch spurred Qureia to resign Saturday, touching off a leadership crisis that some fear could turn into civil war.
In a sign of worsening chaos on the ground, gunmen kidnapped a city official in the West Bank city of Nablus whose governor is a close associate of Arafat. The official was later freed unharmed.
And, in a controversial move, the Palestinian journalists' union yesterday ordered Gaza Strip reporters not to cover protests by militants and other shows of internal strife.
© Copyright 2004 The Associated Press