UNITED NATIONS – With a rare U.S. abstention, the U.N. Security Council (search) Wednesday criticized Israel's military foray into the Gaza Strip and called for a halt to the illegal demolition of Palestinian homes.
The 14 other council nations voted in favor of the resolution which also condemned the killing of Palestinian civilians near a Gaza (search) refugee camp.
The decision by the United States, Israel's closest ally, to abstain rather than exercise its veto power — usual practice with resolutions critical of the Jewish state — reflected the Bush administration's displeasure at Israel's largest incursion into Gaza in years.
U.S. deputy ambassador James Cunningham said he abstained instead of voting in favor of the resolution because it didn't address the Palestinians' efforts to smuggle weapons via tunnels in the Rafah (search) refugee camp or their failure to put an end to terrorist activity against Israel.
But Cunningham expressed deep regret at the loss of innocent civilian lives during Wednesday's demonstration and concern about the demolition of the homes of innocent Palestinians.
"While we believe that Israel has the right to act to defend itself and its citizens, we do not see that its operations in Gaza in the last few days serve the purposes of peace and security," he said. "They have worsened the humanitarian situation and resulted in confrontation between Israeli forces and Palestinians and have not, we believe, enhanced Israeli security."
Cunningham said recent events show "the wisdom of Israel disengaging from Gaza." Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has proposed such a pullout.
The last time the United States abstained in a Security Council vote against Israeli actions was Sept. 24, 2002, when a resolution calling on Israel to withdraw its forces from Palestinian cities passed 14-0.
Arab nations called for council action following Israel's incursion into Gaza which, according to U.N. agencies, left 2,197 people homeless in the first 15 days of May. The firing of Israeli tank shells into a crowd of Palestinian protesters on Wednesday killed at least 10 people.
The resolution condemned "the killing of Palestinian civilians" and expressed grave concern at "the recent demolition of homes committed by Israel, the occupying power, in the Rafah refugee camp."
It "calls on Israel to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law and insists, in particular, on its obligation not to undertake demolition of homes contrary to that law." But the original "demand" for a complete cessation of home demolitions was dropped to get council approval.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had called for an immediate halt to Israeli military operations in Gaza and strongly condemned the killing of peaceful Palestinian demonstrators.
Annan said he had received a phone call from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "pleading with the United Nations and the international community to do something."
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman expressed regret that the United States did not veto the resolution.
"The suffering of the Palestinian population is a direct result of Palestinian terrorism aimed at innocent Israelis, and the need for Israel to protect its citizens from these abhorrent attacks," Gillerman said.
Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. observer, accused Israel of conducting a "barbaric military campaign against the Palestinian people."