Sharon gets a warning over barrier


JERUSALEM - Israel risks international sanctions and other serious diplomatic repercussions over the barrier it is building in the West Bank and must be prepared to make further changes in the route, the nation's attorney general has warned in a report.

Details of the confidential document drafted by Menachem Mazuz, the country's top legal official, were reported yesterday by Israeli news media and confirmed by several officials who have seen the report.

The attorney general stopped short of explicitly recommending that the barrier follow the route of the Green Line, Israel's de facto border before the 1967 Middle East war. But he urged the government to move swiftly to "comply with the principles" affecting the route that were set down by Israel's Supreme Court in a landmark ruling in June.

The court ordered the rerouting of an 18-mile stretch of the barrier inside the West Bank to cause less hardship to Palestinians. The justices used language that legal experts said opened the door to a host of challenges to the 437-mile path of the barrier, about a third of which is completed.

Palestinian officials say the barrier has disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of West Bank residents by cutting them off from schools, jobs, family members and medical care. The Supreme Court said such considerations had to be taken into account wherever the barrier dipped into the West Bank.

Israel says the barrier - a mix of walls, trenches and barbed wire - is needed to keep out suicide bombers.

Less than two weeks after the Supreme Court ruling, the International Court of Justice in The Hague issued a nonbinding advisory opinion declaring the barrier illegal. Israel, which did not recognize the world court's jurisdiction, flatly rejected the opinion and said it will follow the directives of the Supreme Court.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office had no immediate public response to the attorney general's recommendations, which were submitted Thursday.

The prime minister is in semi-seclusion at his ranch in the Negev desert, and aides say he is weighing his course of action after the Central Committee of his Likud Party rejected his plans to bring the Labor Party into the government. He had hoped that such an alliance would help him move forward with plans to pull Israeli troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip.

Sharon has said he will push ahead with the withdrawal and will continue talks with all potential coalition partners.

In his report, Mazuz wrote an accompanying note to Sharon expressing concern over potential consequences if Israel did not respond in some way to the world court. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ordered the government to report within 30 days on how the international ruling might affect construction of the wall.

"It is difficult to overestimate the negative ramifications that the [world court] decision will have on the state of Israel in various spheres," Mazuz wrote. "The decision creates a political reality for Israel on the international level that may be used to expedite actions against Israel in international forums, to the point where they may result in sanctions."

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