World Court hears case on Israeli barrier
Last Updated Mon Feb 23 08:45:58 2004
THE HAGUE-- The World Court began three days of hearings Monday into the legality of Israel's controversial West Bank barrier.
Nasser al-Kidwa at the Great Hall of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.
The Palestinian permanent observer to the United Nations opened the hearings in The Hague by dismissing Israel's claim that the barrier is a defence against suicide bombers.
Ambassador Nasser al-Kidwa told the 15-judge panel that the barrier, which cuts into the West Bank, is an excuse for Israelis to annex large areas of Palestinian land.
Earlier in a televised speech, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat called the barrier an "expansionist and racist segregationist wall" meant to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and would not bring Israel peace and security.
Hundreds of supporters of the barrier demonstrated outside the court, carrying Israeli flags and signs reading, When Terrorism Stops, The Wall Comes Down.
A small group of protesters against the barrier rallied across the street, calling for an end to the occupation of the West Bank and construction of the barrier.
Although the United Nations asked the judicial body to issue an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the barrier, the court's decision is non-binding.
But Palestinians hope a ruling against the barrier will put pressure on Israel to tear it down. Israelis have built about 180 km of the planned 730 km barrier.
Israel has boycotted the hearings and has not sent any representatives to the court.
Instead, Israel submitted written arguments that the court has no authority over the issue.
Israel claims the barrier is needed to protect the country from Palestinian suicide bombers who have killed hundreds of Israelis over three years.
To back up the argument, Israel flew in the remains of a bus blown up in a January suicide bombing, parking it outside the court.
The hearings begin a day after a separate attack on a Jerusalem bus by a Palestinian killed eight Israelis and wounded dozens.
Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinian demonstrators marched in the West Bank and Gaza Strip protesting the barrier.
In some areas, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas to keep thousands of marchers from coming too close to the barrier and to disperse stone throwers.
Written by CBC News Online staff