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Last Updated: Monday, 8 December, 2003, 20:20 GMT
Court to examine Israeli barrier
Part of the Israeli barrier in the West Bank
The barrier cuts into Palestinian territory
The UN General Assembly has approved a resolution asking the International Court of Justice to consider the legality of the Israeli barrier.

Israel is building a controversial barrier inside the West Bank, which it says is needed to stop suicide bombers.

The vote was 90 to eight, with 74 abstentions, with the US and Israel among those voting "No".

In October, the assembly adopted a resolution demanding that Israel halt construction of the barrier.

The BBC's correspondent at the United Nations, Greg Barrow, says the abstentions were a clear sign of the ambivalence felt about taking this contentious issue to the court, which could find itself compromised politically if it finds in favour of the Israeli or the Palestinian side.

War of words

Israel reaffirmed its determination to defend itself at the court in The Hague.

Guide to the route and structure of the West Bank barrier

"We aren't running away", said Raanan Gissin, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"We will fight our battle at The Hague... We'll present our case that we have the full right to exercise our right to self-defence," he told Reuters news agency.

Israeli ambassador Dan Gillerman said the Palestinian leadership's failure to crack down on militant groups made the barrier a necessity.

He blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for the decision to build the barrier.

"This is the fence that Arafat built. His terrorism initiated it, and made its construction inevitable. If there was no Arafat, there would be no fence," he said.

The Palestinians argue that the barrier, which cuts into their territory, is designed to redraw borders ahead of any future peace settlement.

"The wall is a false excuse used as a justification for colonising our land and establishing settlements," said Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian UN observer who proposed the resolution.

The United States, which has called the barrier "a problem", voted against the resolution.

US deputy ambassador James Cunningham called the resolution "one-sided and completely unbalanced", and "doesn't even mention the word terrorism".

The International Court of Justice has the power to issue legal opinions, but does not have any power to impose rulings or sanctions.

The BBC's Greg Barrow
"Arab nations comfortably won enough support for their new resolution"

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