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Palestinians push UN on Israeli West Bank barrier

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By Irwin Arieff
UNITED NATIONS, July 21 (Reuters) - Israel is using its planned withdrawal from Gaza to divert attention from a continued expansion of its West Bank settlements and an extension of its barrier around Jerusalem, a Palestinian diplomat told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday.

A top U.N. envoy echoed Palestinian U.N. envoy Somaia Barghouti's view, pressing the Jewish state to "meet its legal obligations" concerning the West Bank barrier and fulfill its commitments to freeze all settlement activity and dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001.

But Israeli U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman urged council members to focus on "the larger picture" of the Gaza withdrawal and accused the Palestinian envoy of "diatribes and distorted facts." It was "almost cynical" that Palestinian leaders wanted to discuss the barrier at a time of deteriorating security, he said.

"If the Palestinian leadership does not eradicate terrorism, terrorism will ultimately eradicate it," he said.

Arab nations requested the council debate to put fresh pressure on the United Nations a year after an advisory opinion of the World Court concluded the Israeli barrier was illegal.

The court, formally known as the International Court of Justice, said the barrier should be dismantled as it is being built on West Bank land rather than along the pre-1967 border separating Israeli and Palestinian territory.

Israel has said it was ignoring the ruling, although it has made some adjustments in the barrier's route.

While Israel says it is building the barrier to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers, Palestinians call it a land grab aimed at undermining creation of a Palestinian state.

NO CLEAR AGREEMENT ON NEXT STEPS

Barghouti, the Palestinian envoy, said Palestinians were keen to see a successful Israeli pull-out from Gaza so the two sides could proceed to final talks on a Palestinian state.

But it was "important for the international community not to let Israel distract it" from its continued expansion of settlements and its July 10 decision to build a segment of the barrier around Jerusalem, she said.

Alvaro de Soto, the U.N. special envoy for the Middle East peace process, said that as the Gaza withdrawal neared, tensions were being fueled by the lack of a clear agreement on the next steps toward peace and Palestinian statehood.

"Israelis need to be assured of their security and Palestinians need to be provided with hope," he said.

While the Palestinian Authority needed to continue reforming its security forces and do all it could to end attacks on Israeli targets, Israel had parallel obligations under the peace road map set out by the "quartet" of the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations, he said.

In addition to freezing settlement activity and tearing down any settlements built since March 2001, "it is equally important that Israel take steps to meet its legal obligations related to the barrier," de Soto told the council.

A senior Israeli cabinet officer, he noted, had recently said of the barrier's planned route that it "also makes Jerusalem more Jewish."

The language may have been inadvertent but "this and the revelation that some 55,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem will be shut out of the city as a result of the routing can only fuel the fear that the barrier is designed to prejudge the outcome of eventual permanent status negotiations," he said.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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