Tuesday’s delay came after the United States, which had threatened a veto, proposed an alternative, diplomats said.

It was day full of fierce debate in which the Palestinians and the Israelis sparred over the barrier. The Palestinians call the wall a blatant land grab, while Israel insists it is essential to prevent anti-occupation operations.

About 40 countries spoke during the debate, almost all opposing the structure which has become known as the Apartheid Wall.

Several portrayed the barrier as racist and colonialist, worse than the Berlin Wall, and an unjustified step that would turn some parts of the Palestinian territories into "open-air prisons."

The resolution appeared to have wide support in the UN Security Council, but the US threatened a veto unless there was specific language condemning the 3 October attack in the Israeli city of Haifa, in which 20 people were killed.

"It is thus abundantly clear that the establishment of the expansionist conquest wall by the occupying power is a war crime"

Nasser Al-Kidwa,
Palestinian UN observer

It wasn't immediately clear what changes the Americans were proposing to the draft.

Find common ground

Syria, the only Arab nation on the 15-member council, had initially pressed for a vote after Tuesday's open meeting but decided to delay it to try to reach consensus, council diplomats said.

"Apparently the Americans have a proposal and they've decided to explore it," Mexico's UN Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser said. "They still want the vote today (Tuesday), but there's going to be consultations."

The Arab League's UN representative, Yahya Mahmasani, also said suggestions had been made to the document.

During the council meeting, the Palestinian UN observer, Nasser Al-Kidwa, repeatedly referred to the barrier as an "expansionist wall" that only brought more suffering to Palestinians.

"It is thus abundantly clear that the establishment of the expansionist conquest wall by the occupying power is a war crime and, I reiterate, it is a crime of the same magnitude as a crime against humanity," Al-Kidwa said.

Israel's UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman said the wall would create an atmosphere of quiet that could lead to a lasting peace.

Government of war

Some speakers urged both Israel and the Palestinians to end violence, while others outright labelled Israel a "government of war."

Israel's new barrier is called the
Apartheid Wall

But almost all the 40 speakers said the wall would only inflame tensions and become a major threat to peace in the Middle East that will bring suffering to ordinary Palestinians.

Syria's UN Ambassador Fayssal Makdad introduced the draft resolution on Thursday on behalf of the 22-member Arab League.

The request for Security Council action came a week after the Israeli Cabinet approved an extension of the barrier that would sweep around Jewish settlements deep in the West Bank.

United States Ambassador John Negroponte urged Israel to consider the consequences of its actions and quoted US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as saying the wall was "not really consistent" with what the United States eventually wants to see in the Middle East.

Many countries lamented that the wall crosses over the "Green Line," and said it was a violation of international law, including the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions.

Several said the wall would not be nearly as objectionable if it were built solely on Israeli land.