European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana criticized Israel on Monday for a barrier it is building around Jerusalem, and the Palestinian prime minister said it made a farce of efforts to restart the peace process.
Israel faced new pressure over its controversial network of walls and fences a day after giving final approval to a segment it said would eventually separate 55,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from the rest of the holy city.
Israel says the barrier it is building in the West Bank and Jerusalem keeps out Palestinian suicide bombers. Palestinians call it a land grab. The World Court declared it illegal a year ago, but Israel has ignored the ruling.
Solana, arriving for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, said the EU was against the Jerusalem segment for the same reason it opposed the larger West Bank project -- because it cuts into occupied land.
"We think that Israel has the right to defend itself but we think that the fence which will stand outside the territory of Israel is not legally proper and it creates also humanitarian problems," he told reporters in Jerusalem.
He said the Jerusalem barrier would also have a symbolic effect. The city is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie responded harshly to the Israeli decision, calling it "theft in broad daylight" of land Palestinians seek for the capital of their future state.
"This decision makes a farce of any talk about peace and turns the Gaza withdrawal into a useless initiative," he said in a statement, referring Israel’s planned evacuation of all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip starting in mid-August.
BARRIER EVOKES STRONG FEELINGS
Haim Ramon, Israel’s cabinet minister for Jerusalem affairs, defended the cabinet vote, which calls for completion of the Jerusalem barrier by Sept. 1.
"I want to point out that in Jerusalem alone close to 250 people have been murdered during the intifada (Palestinian uprising), most of them in suicide attacks. The fence was born, first and foremost, to prevent them from continuing to murder us," he told Israel Radio.