Red Cross condemns Israeli wall

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The Independent Online

Israel has rejected a declaration by the International Committee of the Red Cross that its West Bank fence violates international humanitarian law because it cuts across Palestinian land.

The Red Cross called on Israel "not to plan, construct or maintain this barrier within occupied territory". The aid agency said the barrier, part wire fence and part 26ft concrete wall, barred thousands of Palestinian civilians from adequate access to water, health care and education. This went "far beyond what is permissible for an occupying power under international humanitarian law", the Red Cross said. The barrier gave rise to "widespread appropriation of Palestinian property and extensive damage to, or destruction of, buildings and farmland".

The International Court is to start hearings into the legality of the fence in The Hague on Monday. Israel, which challenged the court's jurisdiction, will not present its case to the 15 judges. But outside the courthouse it will display the burnt-out frame of a Jerusalem bus in which a suicide bomber killed 11 passengers three weeks ago.

The court said yesterday that the United States and most European countries, which submitted written statements to the court, would not put forward oral arguments. Britain has condemned the building of the barrier but says it is inappropriate for the court to examine the legality of the barrier "without the consent of both parties".

Jonathan Peled, a foreign ministry spokesman, said Israel was forced to build the fence after more than 20,000 terrorist attacks in the past three years. He said the Red Cross was compromising its neutral status by intervening in a political issue.

Balthasar Staehelin, a Red Cross official, said that if the fence followed the pre-1967 war border, "that would solve many of the problems".