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Red Cross criticizes Israeli security barrier

The ICRC said it 'is increasingly concerned about the humanitarian impact of the West Bank barrier on many Palestinians living in occupied territory.'
The ICRC said it 'is increasingly concerned about the humanitarian impact of the West Bank barrier on many Palestinians living in occupied territory.'

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement Wednesday that Israel's West Bank security barrier violates international humanitarian law where it veers into Palestinian territory.

There was no immediate response to the statement from the Israeli government.

Israel has said the barrier is necessary to prevent terrorists from entering Israel from the West Bank. Suicide bombers have killed hundreds of Israelis in more than three years of violence. The Palestinian Authority says the barrier amounts to a land grab because it cuts off access to large areas of Palestinian territory.

In the statement, the ICRC said Israel had erred by not following the so-called "Green Line," the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank, which was part of Jordan at the time of the Six Day War.

"The ICRC is increasingly concerned about the humanitarian impact of the West Bank barrier on many Palestinians living in occupied territory," the statement said. "Where it deviates from the 'Green Line' into occupied territory, the barrier deprives thousands of Palestinian residents of adequate access to basic services such as water, health care and education, as well as sources of income such as agriculture and other forms of employment."

The ICRC said while it condemns attacks on Israeli civilians, Israel has obligations to the Palestinians as an occupying power under international humanitarian law.

"The ICRC's opinion is that the West Bank barrier, in as far as its route deviates from the 'Green Line' into occupied territory, is contrary to" international humanitarian law, the statement said. "The problems affecting the Palestinian population in their daily lives clearly demonstrate that it runs counter to Israel's obligation under [international humanitarian law] to ensure the humane treatment and well-being of the civilian population living under its occupation."

"The measures taken by the Israeli authorities linked to the construction of the Barrier in occupied territory go far beyond what is permissible for an occupying power under" international humanitarian law.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that Israel will boycott a scheduled February 23 hearing about the barrier at the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands. Israel contends that the court does not have jurisdiction in the matter and that Israel can build the barrier as a means of self-defense. (Full story)

The Israeli government began building the barrier in 2002, about two years after renewed Palestinian-Israeli violence erupted in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. In some spots, the barrier is an electronic fence topped with razor wire. Elsewhere, it is a concrete wall.

The United Nations General Assembly has demanded that Israel halt construction of the barrier and dismantle what has been built. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said the barrier is counterproductive to the so-called "road map" to Mideast peace sponsored by the United States, the European Union, the U.N. and Russia.

The road map calls for steps by both Israelis and Palestinians aimed at ending the conflict and establishing an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

Israel-U.S. to meet about 'disengagement' with Palestinians

The Israeli government has said it has begun discussing changing the barrier route to reduce its impact on the Palestinians, as part of Sharon's plan to "disengage" Israel from the Palestinians.

U.S. diplomats have arrived in Israel to discuss the plan with Israeli officials.

Israeli Army radio quoted a government source Wednesday as saying the plan, which would involve removing Jewish settlements in Gaza, would not begin until after the U.S. presidential elections in November, over fears it would cause problems for President Bush.

Sharon planned to meet with White House advisers Steve Hadley and Elliot Abrams and U.S. Mideast envoy William Burns in an attempt to work out understandings between Washington and Israel on the framework of his disengagement plan and its timetable, according to government sources.

Diplomats told CNN that under the plan, settlements and infrastructure Israel has built in Gaza would be turned over to an international third party. That international caretaker would then turn the settlements over to the Palestinian Authority. In that way, the diplomats said, Hamas and other Palestinian groups would be prevented from occupying the settlements.

In recent days, Hamas representatives have suggested that abandoned settlements should be used to house the families of suicide bombers.

Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization, has been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. The group's military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military.

CNN's John Vause contributed to this report.

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