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Annan says Israel's West Bank barrier violates UN resolution

UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary General Kofi Annan said yesterday that Israel is violating a General Assembly resolution that calls for halting construction of a barrier that juts into the West Bank and for dismantling the 90-mile section already built.

In a report to the assembly, Annan said the barrier -- a network of fences, walls, razor wire, and trenches -- violates international law and "could damage the longer-term prospects for peace," including those offered by the US-backed "road map" plan.

"In the midst of the road map process . . . the barrier's construction in the West Bank cannot, in this regard, be seen as anything but a deeply counterproductive act," Annan said.

Israel says the intended 320-mile barrier is essential to prevent suicide attacks against civilians.

Palestinians call it a land grab ahead of any possible talks about the borders of a Palestinian state. Arye Mekel, Israel's deputy UN ambassador, said yesterday that Israel would not dismantle the barrier until the Palestinian leadership makes a "substantial and concentrated" effort to halt terrorist attacks.

"Israel fundamentally rejects the abhorrent propaganda campaign which seeks to stop and misrepresent the true purpose of the fence," Mekel said. "The fence is an efficient and nonviolent mean of self-defense."

Officials at the Palestinians' UN observer mission did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Robert Wood, a spokesman for US Ambassador John Negroponte, had no immediate comment on the report.

The resolution passed overwhelmingly last month by the 191-nation General Assembly -- but opposed by Israel and the United States -- is not legally binding, but is considered a reflection of international opinion. It also does not rule out further UN action against Israel. The assembly could ask the International Court of Justice in The Hague for an advisory opinion -- a possibility Israel has strongly protested.

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