The barrier that Israel is building in the West Bank is causing serious social and economic harm to the Palestinian people and is undermining the Middle East peace effort, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared in a report on Friday.
"When each party should be making good-faith, confidence-building gestures," Annan said, "the barrier's construction in the West Bank cannot, in this regard, be seen as anything but a deeply counterproductive act."
Annan's 11-page report, largely a distillation of various studies by the UN and other organizations, was his most comprehensive statement to date on the subject.
The report was ordered by the General Assembly last month as part of a resolution demanding that Israel halt and reverse the barrier's construction.
The report will prompt a return of the Palestinian delegation to the 191-nation General Assembly to push a resolution seeking an opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on whether the barrier is legal, the Palestinian envoy in New York said on Friday.
The report "vindicates everything we said about the issue," Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian ambassador, said in an interview.
Israel says it is building the barrier to block Palestinian attackers.
In a statement on Friday, Arye Mekel, Israel's deputy ambassador to the UN, said that the barrier is a necessary response to what he said is the Palestinian leadership's refusal to stop the attackers.
Palestinians condemn the barrier as a land grab and an attempt to create a political border.
They say that it does not hew along its length to the so-called Green Line -- the boundary between Israel and the West Bank -- but cuts into the West Bank and surrounds some towns.
Annan, while acknowledging that Israel had a right to defend itself, said in his report that the barrier has caused "serious socio-economic harm" to the Palestinian people by restricting the movement of goods and people and limiting access to land, jobs and markets.
He said Israel's right to defend itself "should not be carried out in a way that is in contradiction to international law" and that "increases suffering among the Palestinian people."
While the resolution that trig-gered the report declared the barrier in violation of international law, Annan stopped short of making a legal pronouncement on the matter.
"We were not asked to provide a legal analysis by the General Assembly, hence it's not in the report," Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said by telephone from London.
On Oct. 21, the General Assembly approved by 144-4, with 12 abstentions and numerous no-shows, a resolution demanding that Israel tear down the barrier.
General Assembly resolutions carry only symbolic weight.
The resolution's opponents argued that the measure was "a distortion of what the ICJ is for" and an attempt to "use the ICJ as a political stick to beat the Israelis," one diplomat said.
Al-Kidwa said on Friday that he would circulate a similar resolution tomorrow.