The U.N. Security Council has adopted its third resolution on the Mideast crisis in just over three weeks, part of a blueprint to end the latest fighting and get the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table to discuss a final peace deal.
In a 15-0 vote Thursday night, the council passed a resolution demanding Israel withdraw its troops from Palestinian cities ``without delay'' and endorsing Secretary of State Colin Powell's mission to the Middle East next week.
Diplomats said the resolution would add weight to President Bush's new effort to end the current Mideast crisis, and to a resolution adopted Saturday that called for an Israeli withdrawal and for both Israel and the Palestinians to ``move immediately to a meaningful cease-fire.''
Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the three Mideast resolutions passed this month provide the elements needed to begin to de-escalate the current conflict as well as a broad framework for a permanent Mideast peace settlement.
Before Thursday night's vote, Annan called on all members of the international community to consider urgently how to persuade the parties — especially Israel — to draw back from the violence that is threatening the region.
Accusing Israel of trying to escalate the conflict, he warned that claiming self-defense against suicide bombings ``is not a blank check.'' He said forcing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat into exile, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed, ``would be reckless.''
He also said Palestinian leaders must acknowledge that ``terrorism is never justified'' — and he said ``the Palestinian public must accept this.''
The Security Council's decision to tackle the 18-month-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broader issue of long-term Middle East peace was largely the result of a change of heart by the United States.
After renewed Mideast violence erupted in September 2000, the United States, Israel's closest ally on the council, thwarted virtually every effort by the Palestinians to secure a Security Council resolution that would condemn Israeli action.
But in a surprise move on March 12, the United States sponsored a council resolution endorsing a Palestinian state for the first time.
After Israeli forces started entering Palestinian cities on the West Bank last week to search for Palestinian extremists responsible for a wave of suicide bombings in Israel, the council adopted a second resolution on Saturday.
It called for ``the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah'' — where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been penned in by Israeli forces — and demanded both parties move toward a cease-fire immediately and start negotiations for a political settlement.
It also expressed ``grave concern'' over the recent Palestinian suicide attacks in Israel and Israel's attack on Arafat's headquarters.
Frustrated that Israel failed to comply with the council demand on Saturday to pull back its forces, Palestinian supporters pressed for a new resolution this week including the word ``immediate'' — which was not in Saturday's call for an Israeli withdrawal.
The United States objected to the word ``immediate'' because it has been pressing for a cease-fire ahead of an Israeli troop withdrawal, a position supported by Israel.
After Bush announced his new initiative in Washington on Thursday morning, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte proposed new language an Arab-backed draft resolution demanding that Israel pull out its tanks and troops ``without delay'' and welcoming Powell's Mideast mission.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov, the current council president, said the Israelis and Palestinians should have gotten the message in recent weeks that the international community, the United Nations, and the council want them to implement the resolutions — quickly.
``That's our only hope, and that's our only belief,'' he said.