JERUSALEM – Israel's construction of its West Bank barrier (search) went ahead full force Wednesday, hours after the U.N. General Assembly called for the structure to be torn down in compliance with a world court ruling.
Bulldozers and backhoes worked in Abu Dis (search) — a Palestinian suburb of Jerusalem. Workers raised 26-foot-high concrete walls that are rapidly separating the Palestinian area from Jerusalem, a city that Abu Dis residents depend on for employment and other services.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat (search) said it was "unfortunate" Israel was ignoring this month's nonbinding ruling by the International Court of Justice (search) in The Hague, Netherlands, and Tuesday's U.N. resolution.
"I hope that the international community will continue to exert every effort to make Israel comply with the U.N. resolutions," Erekat said.
The General Assembly's 150-6 vote, with 10 abstentions, reflected the widespread international opposition to the 425-mile-long barrier Israel says is needed to protect its citizens from suicide bombings. About 100 miles of the barrier already have been built.
Palestinians contend the barrier is a land grab meant to deprive them of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In some areas where the barrier already has been built, Palestinians have been cut off from their lands, schools and other towns and villages.
The U.N. resolution, like the world court's advisory opinion, is not legally binding. But both have symbolic value as international statements of support for the barrier's destruction.
The Palestinian U.N. observer, Nasser Al-Kidwa (search), said the court ruling and the resolution could be "the most important" U.N. action since the General Assembly's 1947 partition of British-ruled Palestine to create independent Jewish and Arab states.
"It is an advisory opinion, that's true, but the court identified the legal obligations of Israel, the occupying power, as well as the legal obligations on member states as a whole," he said. "This can be only binding on everybody."
But Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman denounced the resolution as "one-sided and counterproductive."
U.S. deputy ambassador James Cunningham (search) called the resolution "unbalanced" and said it "politicizes" the court's opinion and "diverts attention" from President Bush's vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.
Israel over the years has defied, ignored and brushed off U.N. resolutions, including ones calling for it to end occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search), said Tuesday's resolution "signifies the bankruptcy of the United Nations" and reflects the "tyranny of the majority" in the General Assembly.
Israel always loses General Assembly votes, Gissin said, because the Arab world has an automatic majority.
The barrier is a crucial part of Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements next year. In an attempt to appease hard-liners in his Cabinet, Sharon promised them the barrier would be complete before the pullout begins.
But Israel's Supreme Court — in a ruling meant to apply to the entire structure — said the barrier violates international law and human rights in areas where it cuts Palestinians off from their lands, schools and other towns.
The ruling has forced the government to reroute nearly the entire unbuilt portion of the barrier. Most of the structure would be moved closer to the so-called Green Line (search), the unofficial frontier before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war, officials said.
The Defense Ministry is expected to release its new route this week.
"The only binding resolution for Israel is the High Court of Justice [the Supreme Court] in Israel ... we will continue to build the fence in accordance with the decision of the High Court," Gissin said.