UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council on Sunday insisted on "immediate implementation" of resolutions demanding an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire and an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities without delay.
Israel's continued military action against the Palestinians is "unacceptable" and a violation of international humanitarian law, said a statement agreed to by the 15-member council, which includes the United States, after an emergency meeting held at the request of Arab nations.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Yehuda Lancry indicated there would be no immediate pullout, insisting that an Israeli withdrawal must be "strictly related and connected to certain Palestinian steps — the cessation of terrorist acts, the meaningful cease-fire."
"Once we have certain assurances that the Palestinian side is determined to prevent suicide bombings, to arrest terrorists — at least as a declaration of will — we will be then convinced, maybe, to respond with some similar steps, maybe a selective withdrawal also," he said.
After their closed-door meeting the council expressed serious concern at "the further deterioration of the situation on the ground," where Israeli troops and Palestinians renewed fierce battles Sunday in the West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus. They cited "many victims among the civilian population and the threat of destruction of the Palestinian National Authority."
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe called the situation "very grave," saying Israel's aim "is to kill all the Palestinians in Jenin and Nablus."
Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Saturday called for the emergency council meeting to force Israel to pull out its troops and tanks. The ministers denounced the Bush administration's handling of the Middle East conflict, saying U.S. bias was allowing Israel to flout international resolutions, terrorize Palestinians and destabilize the region.
In just over three weeks, the council has adopted three resolutions, laying out a blueprint to end the latest fighting and get the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table to discuss a peace deal. Members said Sunday night they were "deeply disturbed" by the failure of both sides to implement the provisions.
The council scheduled a separate closed-door meeting Monday morning with Israel's U.N. Ambassador Yehuda Lancry and the Palestinian U.N. observer, Nasser Al-Kidwa. The council will hold an open meeting on the escalating Mideast violence on Monday afternoon.
Syria's Wehbe said he asked for a new resolution to address the deteriorating situation, but other council members said they did not see an immediate need for another resolution.
In a unanimous 15-0 vote Thursday night, the council demanded the implementation "without delay" of a resolution adopted on March 28 and endorsed U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's mission to the Middle East this week.
The March 28 resolution 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 meaningful cease-fire immediately and start negotiations for a political settlement.
Sunday night's council statement called on the Palestinians and Israelis to cooperate with U.S., U.N., Russian and European Union envoys, especially in the context of Powell's visit.
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 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 following the March 27 suicide bombing at a Passover seder, the council adopted the second resolution.