(IPS) JERUSALEM --
senior Israeli government minister Jan. 4 warned that his country risked the danger of an expected international community boycott over its separation wall similar to that faced by South Africa during the apartheid era.
Israeli Justice Minister Tommy Lapid called the Israeli government in the Sunday cabinet meeting to "have another look" to reconsider the wall which attracted 'widespread international condemnation' as it cuts deep inside the occupied Palestinian territories, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
"There is a danger that we will be exposed to an international boycott as was the case before the fall of the regime in South Africa," Lapid told the meeting, his spokesman Tzahi Moshe told AFP.
Lapid added that Israel is exposed to UN sanctions over the widely-criticized wall that cuts the Palestinian territories and harm the population and peace process, Reuters cited the Israel Radio as reporting.
At the end of 2003, the UN General Assembly referred the controversial separation wall, to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in December 8, which is expected to begin hearings on February 23.
According to the Arab-backed resolution, passed by 90 votes to eight with 74 abstentions, ICJ would be asked to rule on the 'legal consequences' of the barrier "which Israel, the occupying power, is constructing in occupied Palestinian territory."
The decision came few days after France's Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said that the European Union was mulling the possibility of bringing Israel's West Bank separation wall to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in a keynote speech last month that construction would be accelerated despite the chorus of condemnation.
Earlier in November, the Israeli Prime Minister vowed to complete the wall opposing any peace initiatives claiming it is important for the their security.
"We are speeding up the construction of the fence and we will not stop, it is vital for the security of the state and it is our responsibility," Sharon said. President Bush has said the wall is undermining confidence in the Middle East process and the internationally-drafted roadmap for peace, describing it as "a problem" obstructing the creation of a Palestinian state.
In September, 2003, a UN report underlined that the separation wall marked illegal annexation of Palestinian territory and must be condemned by the world community.
Lapid is leader of the centrist Shinui party, the second largest member of the Israeli coalition cabinet after Sharon's own Likud party.
On the other hand, the five Israeli soldiers who refused to serve in what they called "an army of occupation," protesting the occupation of the Palestinian territories were jailed for a year by the military court verdict Sunday, the Israeli Ha'aretz daily reported.
The sentence, the first of its kind since the Palestinian Intifada began three years ago, sentenced, Haggai Matar, Amir Kaminer, Shomri Zameret, Adam Maor and Noam Bahat, were convicted last month by the Jaffa Military Court.
"Every day troops commit crimes in the occupied territories," one of the five men, Haggai Matar, told reporters at the court, referring to Israeli military actions in Palestinian territories, Los Angeles Times reported.
"While we go to the stockade, they remain free," he added.
By leaving the court, the five said that their sentence would not deter the refusenik movement and expressed their wonder at how soldiers who carry out "war crimes" are given 'lenient sentences' while they are sent to prison for matters on conscience.
The sentence, however, was regarded as a warning to others by the recent wave of the refusenik movement, Ha'aretz added referring to the ruling of the judges.
Hadash MK Mohammed Barakeh called the sentence a "draconian punishment," adding that the refuseniks are a "conscientious beacon for a violent society."
A military prosecutor said the five had been found guilty of gross insubordination after refusing to report for three years' military service in 2002.
Two weeks ago, 13 members of the Israeli army's most elite commando unit publicly refused to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories, saying the army's operations there are as oppressive as immoral.
The commandos refusal came three months after 27 reserve and active duty airmen signed a letter last September addressed to Sharon, refusing to carry out "immoral and illegal" raids on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Israeli government harshly reacted to the September letter, which said occupation of Palestinian territories was eating at the moral fabric of the state of Israel. Some of the signatories were dismissed after refusing to retract their statements.
The "refusenik" movement swung into the spotlight in January 2002, when 52 reserve officers and soldiers signed a letter saying they would not serve in the Palestinian territories.
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