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20 May 2004

U.N. Security Council Critical of Israeli Operations in Gaza

U.S. abstains on resolution

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- Saying that Israel's operations in Gaza have worsened the situation, the United States allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution May 19 criticizing the recent demolition of homes in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza.

The council adopted the resolution by a vote of 14 to 0 with the United States, which has veto power, abstaining.

The resolution expressed grave concern at the recent demolition of homes committed by Israel, the occupying power, in the Rafah refugee camp and called on Israel to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law, particularly "its obligation not to undertake demolition of homes contrary to that law."

The Arab group of nations called for Security Council action after Israeli operations in Gaza left 2,197 people homeless and demolished 191 homes in the first 15 days of May, according to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

After the vote U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham said that "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 purpose of peace and security. They have worsened the humanitarian situation and resulted in confrontation between Israeli forces and Palestinians, and have not, we believe, enhanced Israel's security."

The United States abstained instead of voting in favor of the resolution, because the text did not mention that Palestinian terrorists have been smuggling weapons into Gaza through tunnels in Rafah, Cunningham said.

The U.S. ambassador expressed "deep regret" at the loss of life of Palestinian civilians.

"These events, in fact, serve as a grim reminder of the wisdom of Israel disengaging from Gaza and having its security presence replaced by reformed Palestinian security forces that will -- and must -- act to stop smuggling and halt terrorism," he said.

The United States vetoed the council's last attempt to criticize Israel, in March, but abstained on a council resolution calling on Israel to withdraw its forces from Palestinian cities in September 2002.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who strongly condemned the killing of peaceful Palestinian demonstrators and called for an immediate halt to Israeli military operations, talked with Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on May 19 while negotiations on the draft resolution were under way.

The fact that the Security Council is taking up the problem, Annan said, "sends a message of international concern."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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