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EU court: West Bank, Gaza not Israeli

LUXEMBOURG, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- The European Union's highest court said the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are not part of Israel.

After a trade conflict involving German customs authorities and a German drinks producer that imports Israeli products, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled that goods produced in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank must not be considered Israeli.

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"The customs authorities of the importing member state may refuse to grant the preferential (import duty) treatment," when "the goods concerned originate in the West Bank," the court said in its ruling.

Thursday's ruling, in line with overall EU policies, is a further blow to Israel's settlement policy.

Palestinians have long argued that import duties should be imposed on Israeli products originating from the West Bank.

The decision is intended to determine a conflict between German drinks company Brita and the Hamburg harbor customs office. Brita had sought to import drink-making devices for sparkling water produced by Israeli supplier Soda-Club at its manufacturing site at Mishor Adumin in the West Bank, to the east of Jerusalem.

The German company informed customs authorities that the goods originated in Israel, as a result of which it hoped to be allowed to import the goods duty-free under an EU-Israeli trade agreement.

Suspecting that the products originated in the occupied territories, German authorities asked Israeli customs officials to confirm that the products had not been manufactured in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

Israel answered that the goods originated in an area that is under their responsibility but did not state that they were not made in the occupied territories. As a result, the Hamburg customs authorities imposed import duties on the goods, arguing it couldn't be ruled out that they were from the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

Brita contested the decision before a Hamburg court, which referred the case to the European Court of Justice, which backed the customs authorities.

"Despite a specific request from the German authorities, the Israeli authorities did not reply to the question whether the products had been manufactured in Israeli-occupied settlements in Palestinian territory," the court said in the ruling. "The court notes in this respect that ... the Israeli authorities are obliged to provide sufficient information to enable the real origin of products to be determined."

Franziska Brandtner and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, two senior European Green Party officials, said the ruling wasn't directed against Israel.

"Rather, it clarifies that from a legal standpoint, there is a clear difference between Israel and the territories that Israel unlawfully claims," they were quoted as saying by news Web site Euractiv.de.

Israel hasn't commented on the ruling.

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