World court rules against Israeli barrier

The International Court of Justice ruled Friday that Israel's barrier in the West Bank violates international law and should be torn down.

The International Court of Justice ruled on Friday that Israel's barrier in the West Bank should be torn down because it violates international laws and infringes on the rights of Palestinians.

The panel also recommended that Israel compensate individual Palestinians whose land was seized and homes and businesses were destroyed during the construction of the 640-kilometre system of walls, fences and ditches.

Furthermore, it said the United Nations should take action to stop the project from proceeding and double its efforts to bring an end to the bitter Middle East conflict that has claimed thousands of lives.

The international judges ruled 14-1 against Israel's argument that the barrier is necessary to keep out West Bank militants and avert more suicide attacks against its citizens. The lone holdout among the judges was the American representative, Thomas Buerghenthal.

Palestinians consider the barrier a means to secure more land for Israel because it doesn't follow the internationally recognized boundary between Israel and the West Bank.

Chinese judge Shi Jiuyong started reading the lengthy ruling at 9 a.m. ET in a process that was expected to take several hours.

One of the ruling's first elements was a decision that the court did indeed have jurisdiction on the question, although Israel, the United States and others argued that the dispute over the barrier was a political issue rather than a legal one.

More details of the complex ruling were expected to emerge throughout the day, but Israel, the Palestinians and the United States started to react while the process was still going on.

"The international high court decided clearly today that this racist wall is illegal to the root and Israel should stop building it and take down what has already been built of this wall," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia told reporters. "This is a historic day and a historic decision."

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official repeated the country's position that the court "has no authority to deal with disputes between Israel and the Palestinians."

Reached aboard Air Force One, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the United States believes the barrier dispute should be resolved politically, not through a court decision.

The United Nations General Assembly asked the international court to rule on the wall.

Though the ruling is not binding, it can bring moral and historical weight. The Palestinians have said they will use the court's ruling to seek a UN resolution demanding that the barrier be dismantled, or ask for sanctions against Israel.

The international court, created in 1946, is the main legal body of the United Nations.