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Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat hailed the ruling of the International Court of Justice against Israel's construction of the security fence as a victory for his people yesterday.

"This is an excellent decision. We thank the court in The Hague," Arafat told reporters from his compound in Ramallah. "This is a victory for the Palestinian people and for all the free peoples of the world."

Although the ruling is only advisory, Arafat compared it to the international will that led to the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. "This wall will be removed to build our own state," Arafat said.

The International Court "decided clearly today that this racist wall is illegal to the root and Israel should stop building it and take down what has already been built of this wall. We welcome this decision," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said. "This is a historic day and a historic decision," he said.

The Hamas militant Islamic group hailed the court's decision, saying it "proves that Israel is just a renegade entity that flouts all international laws and resolutions."

"The ruling is clear evidence that this raping entity [Israel] is a reason for the troubles and terrorism in the region and shows that this entity is trying all the time to create atmospheres of wars and tensions," a Hamas leaflet said.

The "apartheid wall represents the real picture of the Zionist entity that lives the illusion of security and hiding all the time behind walls, lookout posts and heavily protected installations," it added.

Palestinians will seek UN sanctions against Israel, a senior Palestinian official said. "The next step is to approach the UN General Assembly and Security Council to adopt resolutions that will isolate and punish Israel. As of today Israel should be viewed as an outlaw state," said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, adviser to Arafat.

"We hope the United States today will see to it that they will work to have Israel comply with the [court's] resolution," Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said.

"It very clearly delegitimizes the wall and demands that it be pulled down," said Jamal Juma, coordinator of a Palestinian group called the Anti-apartheid Wall Campaign.