JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel must tear down its West Bank separation barrier, a senior U.N. official said Wednesday, marking five years since the International Court of Justice declared the barrier illegal and a violation of Palestinian rights.
The barrier separates Israel from the West Bank and in places cuts into Palestinian territory. Israel started building it in 2002 to stop a wave of suicide bombing attacks by Palestinians, who infiltrated across the cease-fire line.
Palestinians charge the complex of walls, trenches, barbed wire and electronic sensors is a land grab that cuts people off from their property and basic services.
Israel did not recognize the 2004 ruling against the barrier by the International Court of Justice, an advisory opinion with no enforcement mechanism.
The barrier is about two-thirds completed. The southern section, near sparsely populated areas on both sides of the line, has not been constructed. Israel's Supreme Court has forced rerouting of several segments closer to the Israel-West Bank line.
At a news conference in Jerusalem to mark the anniversary, the U.N. released a statement concluding that the completed barrier would close in 35,000 Palestinians and wall off another 125,000 on three sides. About 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said the barrier is only part of the problem.
"The wall is but one element of the wider system of severe restrictions on the freedom of movement imposed by the Israeli authorities on Palestinian residents of the West Bank," Pillay said. Israeli must "dismantle the wall" and "make reparations for all damage suffered by all persons affected by the wall's construction," she said.
Israel's Foreign Ministry did not comment on the statement Wednesday. Israel's government has said in the past that the completed sections of the barrier have significantly reduced Palestinian attacks in Israel.
The U.N. said it will release a full report on the humanitarian impact of the barrier later this month.