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West Bank wall leads to UN lobbying

Hague ruling fuels old rifts

JERUSALEM -- Israelis and Palestinians both sought support yesterday for their positions in a possible confrontation at the United Nations over the security barrier under construction in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, violence erupted in the Gaza Strip, and four Palestinians were killed.

Palestinians and the Arab world expressed elation at a nonbinding world court ruling in the Hague on Friday that declared the barrier illegal and that said it should be dismantled.

The Palestinians have said they would seek the support of the court's members in the UN General Assembly, then would go to the 15-nation Security Council, which can order action.

Israel said the International Court of Justice in The Hague had no right to make such a decision. It also said it planned to continue building the 425-mile barrier of concrete walls, razor-wire fences, trenches, and watchtowers.

The Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, said he had asked US officials to prevent the adoption of any UN resolution aimed at enforcing the ruling.

In the Gaza Strip yesterday, an explosion killed four Palestinians. Palestinian officials said the deaths had resulted from an Israeli tank attack on a car in al-Zahra, on the outskirts of Gaza City.

The army, which had helicopters and tanks in the area, said that it had not fired at any vehicles and that its soldiers were not in the immediate spot. Earlier, clashes broke out in the nearby settlement of Netzarim.

The Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, told a European Union envoy, Marc Otte, yesterday that he hoped the Americans would not "sabotage our efforts" at the United Nations, participants at the meeting said later. "It is the responsibility of the international community, it is the responsibility of the UN, to put a mechanism to commit Israel to this decision," Qureia said.

Washington, which often has used its veto in the 15-nation Security Council to block resolutions critical of Israel, disagreed with the world court on the issue and said it believed no further UN action was necessary.

Shalom's spokesman, Moshe Devi, confirmed that the foreign minister had approached Washington concerning the matter, but said he also had asked the 25 EU nations for backing.

Israel and the United States were sticking to their positions -- that the world court should not become involved because the issue is political rather than legal and because the court's ruling could disrupt Middle East peace efforts.

Israel has said the barrier has prevented bombings, and has reported a sharp drop in casualties. Palestinians have said the complex of fences, trenches, and razor wire amounts to a land grab.

Although many in the Arab world welcomed the ruling, some voiced skepticism at the possibility of UN action. "Americans will be waiting there with a ready veto," Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, said in Lebanon.

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