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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 January, 2004, 21:38 GMT
Israel faces 'barrier boycott'
Israel's barrier
The Israeli barrier has been condemned around the world
The Israeli Justice Minister has warned the government should re-examine the route of its controversial West Bank barrier to avoid international boycott.

Tommy Lapid said Israel risked being treated like apartheid-era South Africa over the barrier aimed to separate Israelis from Palestinians.

The barrier has been condemned by a number of countries around the world.

Meanwhile, an Israeli officer returned his insignia in protest at the army's actions on the occupied territories.

Eitan Ronel, a retired army colonel, said in a letter to the Israeli army chief, Moshe Yaalon, that troops no longer respected "the brave ethics as they had in the past".

There is a danger that we will be exposed to an international boycott as was the case before the fall of the regime in South Africa
Israeli Justice Minister Tommy Lapid
"Children regularly fall victim to our bullets in the occupied Palestinian territories. This is both illegal and immoral," Mr Ronel said.

In other developments on Sunday:

  • an Israeli military court sentenced five Israeli teenagers to one year in jail each for refusing to serve in the "army of occupation";

  • Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered two more West Bank settlement outposts to be dismantled, as required by the US-backed Middle East peace plan, the roadmap.

'Dangerous' comments

Mr Lapid reportedly told a cabinet meeting that Israel should "have another look" at the route of the barrier, which at times cuts deep into the Palestinian territory and would affect hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

Guide to the route and structure of the West Bank barrier

He warned that the upcoming hearings by the International Court of Justice at The Hague over the legality of the barrier could be the first step in Israel being treated like apartheid-era South Africa.

"There is a danger that we will be exposed to an international boycott as was the case before the fall of the regime in South Africa," Mr Lapid told the cabinet, according to his spokesman.

Mr Lapid, who is the leader of the secular Shinui Party, said Israel had brought this on itself for not sticking to the original route of the barrier along the Green Line.

But he was immediately rebuffed by several of his cabinet colleagues, who described his comments as "dangerous".

They said the barrier - whose construction began in 2002 - was being built in the right place and solely to stop Palestinian suicide bombers.

Last week, Mr Sharon announced that the construction of the its 700-kilometre (435 miles) barrier would be speeded up.

Refuseniks jailed

On Sunday, Mr Ronel became the latest Israeli soldier to have criticised the army's behaviour in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israeli refuseniks speak to journalists after appearing at an Israeli military court in Jaffa
The refuseniks said they did not want to serve in the "army of occupation"

"A country in which the army disperses demonstrations by live gunfire is not a democratic country," Mr Ronel wrote in his letter, which was quoted in the Yediot Ahronot daily.

"An army that educates its soldiers that such a crime is conceivable has lost all restraint," the letter said.

Mr Ronel's letter came on the day five Israeli teenagers were sentenced for refusing to join the army because of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

A military court in Jaffa ruled that the five had deliberately encouraged others to dodge the draft, Israeli media reported.

Military service is compulsory in Israel for both men and women.

The defendants' lawyer said they were conscientious objectors who should not have been punished.

"What is the point of freedom of expression if, in the end, someone is thrown in jail for taking advantage of the right," Dov Hanin told Israel Radio.

Last month, 13 reservists from a Israeli commando unit refused to serve in the occupied territories after accusing the army of depriving Palestinians of their rights.

Israel and the Palestinians



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