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Switzerland welcomes UN security barrier vote

Calmy-Rey welcomed Tuesday's UN resolution

(Keystone)

Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has welcomed a United Nations resolution demanding that Israel demolish a security barrier in the West Bank.

The resolution calls on Switzerland to examine the possibility of convening a meeting of the states party to the Geneva Conventions.

At a press conference in Bern, Calmy-Rey described Tuesday’s vote at the UN headquarters in New York as “balanced” and said Switzerland was “ready to accept” the UN’s mandate.

“This request from the UN is proof of the international community’s confidence in Switzerland,” she said.

The resolution - adopted in the General Assembly by 150 votes to six - calls for an end to the construction of the approximately 600km-long barrier, which Israel says is necessary to keep out suicide bombers.

All 25 European Union countries as well as Switzerland supported the Palestinian-drafted resolution, which was opposed by Israel, the United States and Australia.

Swiss mandate

The final version of the resolution calls on Switzerland to “conduct consultations” before reporting back to the UN on the possibility of “resuming the conference of contracting parties to the fourth Geneva Convention”.

Calmy-Rey said Switzerland had already hosted two such conferences in its capacity as custodian of the fourth Geneva Convention.

Such a conference would seek to determine whether the barrier violated the fourth Convention, which obliges states to protect civilians in times of war.

“Switzerland has been mandated twice in the past to organise such a conference… in 1999 and 2001, and on both occasions Israel and the United States were absent,” the foreign minister told swissinfo.

Calmy-Rey added that she was “relieved” that the new UN mandate did not put Switzerland under any obligation to host another conference.

“We decide how to carry out this mandate, what talks we will hold and what kind of report we will submit to the UN.”

The Swiss government said it would now consult with “all the parties involved” before submitting a report to the UN General Assembly.

Mixed reaction

Israel said on Wednesday that the UN resolution would not stop it from pressing ahead with construction of the barrier.

The country’s ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, described the vote as “outrageous”, while US deputy ambassador James Cunningham said it could undermine the goal of a Middle East in which Israelis and Palestinians could live in peace.

But Palestinian UN observer Nasser al-Kidwa praised the vote as a "historic development" and called on member states to consider punitive measures against Israel.

The vote, which is not legally binding, comes less than two weeks after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the security barrier was illegal and contravened humanitarian law.

In a ruling on July 9, the ICJ said the barrier was illegal because it cuts deep into West Bank land seized by Israel during the 1967 Middle East War. The court demanded that Israel tear down what has been built and pay for damage caused by its construction.

swissinfo

Key facts

Israel says the barrier is necessary to keep out suicide bombers.
Palestinians condemn it as a land grab aimed at dashing their hopes for an independent state.
Switzerland has opposed the barrier, arguing that it hampers the free movement of many Palestinians and cuts them off from their workplaces, farmland and schools

end of infobox

In brief

The United Nations General Assembly has demanded that Israel tear down its security barrier in the West Bank.

The resolution also calls on Switzerland to consider convening a meeting of the states party to the Geneva Conventions.

The Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, said she had reservations about the success of such a meeting.

end of infobox


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