US vetoes UN draft condemning Israel's killing of civilians

By Gerard Aziakou

AFP) - The United States vetoed an Arab-sponsored draft resolution in the UN Security Council that would have condemned Israel's deadly attack in the Gaza Strip, calling the text "unbalanced" and "biased."

"The draft doesn't display an even-handed characterization of the recent events in Gaza," US Ambassador John Bolton said, referring to what Israel said was an accidental shelling that killed 19 Palestinian civilians, mostly women and children, in the the Gaza town of Beit Hanun.

"We are disturbed at the language of the resolution that is in many places biased against Israel and politically motivated," he added. "Such language does not further the cause of peace and its unacceptability to the United States in previous resolutions is well known."

As one of the council's five permanent members along with Britain, China, France and Russia, the United States has veto power which it has now used 82 times, often to shield Israel from censure.

Its previous use of the veto was in July to block a Qatari-sponsored draft resolution that would have condemned Israel's military onslaught in Gaza as "disproportionate force" and would have demanded a halt to Israeli operations in the territory.

Ten of the council's 15 members voted in favor the amended text, introduced by Qatar on behalf of Arab member states, and four -- Britain, Denmark, Japan and Slovakia -- abstained.

Israel immediately hailed the US veto as "very satisfactory" while the Palestinians said it would encourage further Israeli attacks on civilians.

"The American veto is very satisfactory. The draft resolution did not stipulate that what happened at Beit Hanun was a tragic error," Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner said.

But Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas swiftly condemned the veto, saying: "We feel it will encourage Israel to continue its escalation against the Palestinian people."

Explaining her decision to abstain, Britain's deputy UN Ambassador Karen Pierce said: "We were not able to conclude that the draft resolution was sufficiently balanced nor reflected the complexity of the current situation."

But France's UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere disagreed.

"I think the text was a balanced one and (its) adoption would have sent the right signal to both parties that the Security Council is really concerned about what is happening in Gaza, really concerned about the deaths of civilians and the protection of civilians," the French envoy said.

Palestinian UN observer Ryad Mansour also voiced disappointment and accused the council of "shirking its responsibility."

"Palestine is disappointed again," he said and warned that the US veto would push extremists on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide "to take matters into their own hands."

The council vote had been delayed by 24 hours as the sponsors continued efforts to try to make the text more palatable to Western countries.

Diplomats said Arab countries would now most likely take their case to the 192-member General Assembly, where their draft would get a more sympathetic hearing.

Mansour said Arab foreign ministers, due to hold a special meeting in Cairo Sunday on the Gaza violence, would decide whether to turn to the General Assembly for support.

The Qatari draft would have condemned Israel's military operations in Gaza, particularly the Beit Hanun incident, along with "the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel."

It would have called on Israel "to immediately cease its military operations that endanger the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and to immediately withdraw its forces from within the Gaza Strip to positions prior to June 28, 2006."

It would have urged the international community, including the diplomatic Quartet -- the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union -- "to stabilize the situation and restart the peace process, including through the possible establishment of an international mechanism for protection of the civilian populations."

It also would have directed the UN secretary general to set up a fact-finding mission on the Beit Hanun attack within 30 days.

Bolton bemoaned the fact that the Qatari draft made "not a single reference to terrorism" and did not condemn Hamas's "statement that Palestinians should resume terror attacks on Israel on a broad scale, or calls by the military wing of Hamas to Muslims worldwide to strike American targets and interests."

Wednesday's Israeli strike in Gaza has received worldwide condemnation and led to calls for an immediate halt by the Jewish state of its Gaza offensive, which has left more than 300 Palestinians dead since late June when an Israeli soldier was seized by Palestinian militants.

Copyright 2006 Agence France Presse.

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