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Israel Resolute on Building Barrier

Dismissing the U.N.'s condemnation, official says the West Bank must be isolated for security.

October 23, 2003|Henry Chu | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Defying world opinion, the government of Israel vowed Wednesday to press ahead with the construction of a controversial security partition intended to cut the nation off from the West Bank.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed a near-unanimous vote Tuesday by the United Nations General Assembly condemning the barrier and demanding that it be torn down.

"The fence will continue to be built, and we will go on taking care of the security of Israel's citizens," Olmert told Israeli radio Wednesday morning. He said the partition -- a combination of barbed-wire fencing, high concrete walls and deep moats -- is necessary to block Palestinian suicide attackers from penetrating Israel.

Critics of the barrier call it a land grab, noting that it already has cut off hundreds of acres of prime land in the West Bank, adding it to the Israeli side. Opponents also fear that the partition's route will harden into a de facto border that would turn any future Palestinian state into an unconnected patchwork of enclaves.

The U.N. resolution, which is not binding, expressed that concern, saying the barrier "could prejudge future negotiations and make the two-state solution physically impossible to implement."

The statement called on Israel, as "the occupying power," to "stop and reverse" construction of the partition.

Only four nations -- Israel and its strongest ally, the United States, as well as Micronesia and the Marshall Islands -- voted against the resolution, while 144 countries were in favor. Twelve nations abstained.

To sweeten its chances in the General Assembly, the measure's backers added a condemnation of Palestinian terrorism, including a suicide attack early this month in a restaurant in the Israeli port city of Haifa that killed 20 people in addition to the bomber and a roadside explosion last week that killed three American security guards accompanying U.S. diplomats on a visit to the Gaza Strip.

Also Wednesday, four Palestinians died in Israeli army raids and in an attack on Jewish settlers near the West Bank city of Hebron. A lone Palestinian gunman opened fire on the settlers but was fatally shot by two men he had wounded. The pair suffered light to moderate injuries, Israeli media reported.

Earlier in the day, Israeli soldiers gunned down two suspected militants, in Hebron and Kalkilya, and arrested more than a dozen others, Israeli radio said.

A fourth Palestinian died of wounds suffered Tuesday in a clash with the Israeli army in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

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