UNITED NATIONS – Israel said Monday that a new "axis of terror" — Iran, Syria and the Hamas-run Palestinian government — is sowing the seeds of the first world war of the 21st century. The Palestinians accused Israel of an escalating and indiscriminate military campaign that targets civilians and entrenches its occupation.
The Israeli and Palestinian envoys traded charges at an open Security Council meeting held in response to the recent upsurge in Israeli attacks in Gaza. It took place on a day that a Palestinian suicide bomber struck a packed fast-food restaurant in Tel Aviv, killing nine people in the deadliest bombing in more than a year.
Recent statements by the Palestinian government, Iran and Syria, including one by Hamas on Monday defending the suicide bombing, "are clear declarations of war, and I urge each and every one of you to listen carefully and take them at face value," said Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman.
"A dark cloud is looming above our region, and it is metastasizing as a result of the statements and actions by leaders of Iran, Syria, and the newly elected government of the Palestinian Authority," Gillerman warned.
The Palestinian U.N. observer, Riyad Mansour, condemned Monday's homicide bombing and the loss of innocent civilians on both sides, but attacked Israel for trying to portray its latest military escalation — which killed 19 Palestinians from April 7-9 — as a response to violence from the Palestinian territories.
"Israel, the occupying power has been relentless in its grave breaches of international law, including the willful killing and injury of civilians and the practice of extrajudicial executions," he said. "What the Israeli government is doing and what it has been doing throughout its nearly 39-year-old military occupation is clearly intended to serve its clear political objectives of inflicting maximum pain, suffering and loss on the Palestinian people while it entrenches its occupation."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the escalating violence "very worrying" and urged both sides to avoid putting civilians at risk. He also announced that the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers — the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia — would meet in New York on May 9 to discuss how to move the stalled roadmap to peace forward.
Gillerman told the Security Council that Monday's "horrific act of terrorism as well as the ones that preceded it are the direct result of the new axis of terror" comprising Iran and Syria and the "terrorist organizations they have been harboring, nurturing, financing and supporting, namely Hamas and Hezbollah."
The Israeli ambassador's "axis of terror" reference was reminiscent of President Bush's 2002 State of the Union address in which he labeled North Korea, Iran and Saddam Hussein's Iraq as an "axis of evil" seeking weapons of mass destruction.
His warnings of a new war indicate the growing threat that Israelis face — and feel — from the new anti-Israeli governments in Iran and the Palestinian territories, and Syria's refusal to crack down on Hamas and Hezbollah.
Gillerman said recent statements by Hamas leaders refusing to recognize Israel, and by Iran's president who said Saturday that Israel is "on the road to being eliminated," represent "the stated goal of this axis of terror."
Mansour urged the Security Council and the international community to condemn the Israeli attacks and take measures to halt the latest escalation.
He said "double standards" in which the international community remains silent as Israelis kill Palestinian civilians while the Palestinians are punished by economic and political isolation for democratically electing their government are unacceptable.
"Any calls on the Palestinian side will only be viewed as hypocritical if they are not met by equal pressure on the occupying power to put an end to its harsh military measures, to end its subjugation of the Palestinian people and accept their rights to live in freedom and security, under the protection of international law," Mansour warned.
Gillerman urged the international community and the Security Council "to take swift actions to try and prevent the next murder which is already on its way."
Since January, he said, 11 major suicide terrorist attacks have been prevented and 90 potential homicide bombers have been arrested.
While Israel regrets any loss of life, it will not sit idly by and allow "human bombs" or rockets to penetrate the country and kill Israelis — and he asked whether every country wouldn't do the same to eliminate a similar danger.
"The danger I must add, not just to Israel but also to the whole free world, and to civilization as we know it, as this axis of evil and terror sows the seeds of the first world war of the 21st century," Gillerman said.