U.N. Security Council Condemns Escalation of Israeli-Palestinian Violence

The U.N. Security Council issued a media statement early Sunday condemning the escalation of fighting in southern Israel and Gaza and urging Israelis and Palestinians "to immediately cease all acts of violence."

The statement, though not a formal resolution, also stressed that the violence "must not be allowed to deter the political process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at establishing two states -- Israel and Palestine -- living side by side in peace and security."

Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, delivered the summary -- the result of a five-hour emergency council meeting held at the request of the Palestinians and their Arab supporters. Churkin, the current council president, said the summary for the media was agreed to by all 15 council members.

"Members of the Security Council are deeply concerned about the loss of civilian life in southern Israel and Gaza and condemn the escalation of violence that has taken place," the summary said. "Members of the council underscore the need for all parties to immediately cease all acts of violence."

Libya circulated a draft resolution Saturday night on behalf of the Palestinians and Arab nations that would strongly condemn the killing of innocent civilians. including children. It also calls for "an immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including military attacks and the firing of rockets, and calls upon all parties to respect the cease-fire."

Council experts are expected to meet Monday afternoon to consider the draft.

Such resolutions have failed repeatedly in the past because of U.S. and European objections that they are not balanced in their condemnation -- and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters as he left the council meeting that "it's not a balanced resolution, certainly."

The Palestinians called for the council meeting after Israeli attacks on Saturday killed 54 Palestinians in the highest single-day toll since fighting erupted in 2000. Palestinian fighters also kept up their attack, firing about 50 rockets and mortars on Israeli targets on Saturday. Six Israelis were injured by rockets that reached as far as Ashkelon, a coastal city 11 miles north of Gaza.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, told reporters after the council meeting that "we wanted to have a reaction that would lead to stopping the killing of innocent civilians -- a great majority of them are Palestinians, especially children, women and older folks -- and also to have a reaction from the council that one can say that it's a call for a cease-fire."

"This summary of the deliberation, in its own way, touched upon these two items," he said.

"We hope that the Israeli side, which is the aggressor in this situation, would respond to the call from the council to stop this aggression and the attack against the Palestinian people, and therefore stop the fighting," Mansour said.

"I believe that if Israel ... stops the attack against the Palestinian people, the Palestinian side in response also would act in cease-fire form," he said.

Whether that ever happens, however, remains to be seen because Gaza is controlled by the violently anti-Israel Hamas movement, which is engaged in a bitter rivalry with the West Bank-based administration led by moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel's deputy U.N. ambassador Daniel Carmon said the government would not apologize for "protecting its citizens" against a dramatic upsurge in attacks by Hamas, which since Wednesday has fired more than 150 rockets into Israel.

"While Israel has been showing restraint, Hamas has shown no intention of ceasing its vicious attacks," he said. "There is only one way to describe the activity of Hamas against Israel. It is plain and blunt terrorism."

In a briefing to the council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel and called "for the immediate cessation of such acts of terrorism, which serve no purpose."

While Ban said he recognized Israel's right to defend itself, he condemned "the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed and injured so many civilians, including children." He called on Israel "to cease such attacks."

The secretary-general told the council that U.N. sources have reported at least four incidents of Israeli fire against ambulances and medical personnel, adding that the Palestinian Ministry of Health has appealed for diesel to operate its ambulances.

"I am deeply concerned at the possibility of the violence escalating and have offered our strong support for all efforts to bring about an end to the violence and a period of calm," he said. "I call on all parties to step back from the brink of even deeper and more deadly clashes."

Ban also expressed concern at the impact of the Israeli attack and Palestinian rockets on the peace process, and urged countries with influence to use it to get the parties to stop the violence and allow humanitarian relief.

Khalilzad said that in the council's summary, the United States wanted to stress Ban's statement and its reference to the Palestinian rocket attacks as "acts of terrorism." The summary expresses appreciation for Ban's participation and simply "takes note of his statement."

The draft resolution expresses "grave concern" at "the steep deterioration of the situation in the occupied Palestinian Territory as a result of the escalation of violence," and about the killing of innocent civilians, including several Palestinian children during Israel's military attack in Gaza.

It calls on Israel to immediately open the Gaza Strip's border crossings to allow for the unhindered access of humanitarian aid and basic supplies, and urges donors to provide emergency assistance.

"I think now the council has to shoulder its responsibilities," the Arab League's U.N. observer, Yahya Mahmassani said, "and stand up and say this is the time where everybody has to stop shooting."

Mahmassani, warned that the violence threatens the agreement between Israeli and Palestinian leaders at a conference hosted by U.S. President George W. Bush in Annapolis, Maryland, to try to reach a Mideast peace settlement by the end of the year.

"We have (to have) a cease-fire and at the same time for the Israelis to engage seriously with the Palestinian Authority to come to the peace process," he said. "The negotiations that have been taking place so far have been fruitless. Nothing has been accomplished."