U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Israel during an emergency Security Council meeting Friday to stop its assault on Yasser Arafat's West Bank headquarters because destroying it will not bring peace.
Deputy U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham warned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his government "to carefully consider the consequences" of the assault, and warned that the Palestinian leader should not be harmed.
"Chairman Arafat is the leader of the Palestinian people. His leadership is now, and will be, central to any meaningful effort to restore calm," Cunningham said.
The emergency session, which interrupted a Good Friday holiday, was called at the request of the Palestinians after Israeli troops, backed by tanks, swarmed into Arafat's headquarters, confining the Palestinian leader.
A resolution introduced by Norway demanded an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah, site of Arafat's West Bank headquarters.
The Security Council meeting concluded a tumultuous week in Middle East politics — Arab League nations endorsed a Saudi peace plan, a suicide bomber killed 22 Passover diners, and Sharon vowed that Israel would "isolate" Arafat with a massive military push.
"The killing of Arafat would be the mother of all mistakes," said Palestinian U.N. envoy Nasser al-Kidwa, who called the Ramallah assault "an insane step by Sharon."
Saying he was trying to salvage the situation, al-Kidwa called for a cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah.
Annan, who flew home Friday from the Arab summit in Lebanon, said he was "deeply alarmed at the rapid escalation of the violence."
"Israel should halt its assault on the Palestinian Authority," Annan said. "Destroying the Palestinian Authority will not bring Israel closer to peace."
Annan also said suicide bombings were "repugnant" and subverted all peace attempts.
"Terrorism will not bring the Palestinian people closer to an independent Palestinian state," Annan said.
Cunningham urged the Palestinians to cooperate with U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni on a cease-fire and "to take the step to bring tangible benefits to both peoples."
"This is the only solution to the crisis before us," he said. "The cycle of violent action and reaction in the Middle East must stop."
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Yehuda Lancry blamed Arafat for the crisis, saying the militants find sanctuary right in his headquarters.
"Chairman Arafat has made it abundantly clear both through his actions and inactions that the murder of innocent Israeli civilians is legitimate and desirable and that somehow terrorism and dialogue can live side by side," he said.