A statement from the Swiss-based body said: ‘The ICRC’s opinion is that the West Bank Barrier, in as far as its route deviates from the ‘Green Line’ into occupied territory, is contrary to IHL [international humanitarian law].’ The ICRC also called on the Israeli government ‘not to plan, construct or maintain this barrier within occupied [Palestinian] territory’. It did say, however, that it recognised Israel’s need to defend its population.

Israel claims the barrier is necessary to stop Palestinian attacks against Israeli targets. However, Palestinians say the 440-mile fence disrupts the lives of thousands who cannot reach jobs, hospitals and schools and is illegal because it is on occupied land. An International Court of Justice hearing into the legality of the fence is scheduled to begin at The Hague on 23 February at the request of the UN’s General Assembly.

Israeli President Moshe Katzav on 16 February told a banquet during a state visit to France that ‘as long as terrorism lasts, we have no other choice but to build the security barrier, to take unilateral measures and to conduct military actions to protect our citizens’ lives’.