The Security Council approved a resolution endorsing a Palestinian state for the first time and calling for an immediate ceasefire in the escalating Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The resolution, the first the US has introduced since the latest bloodshed began in September 2000, was approved Tuesday night, winning the support of 14 of the 15 council members.
Syria, which had earlier introduced a Palestinian-backed resolution on behalf of the Arab states, abstained. The Palestinian UN observer, Nasser Al-Kidwa, called the US resolution ``important'' and said his government would abide by its provisions.
The US, Israel's most powerful ally, surprised the council with its unexpected support for a Security Council resolution on the Middle East.
Previously, it had thwarted every effort by the Palestinians to get the council to adopt a resolution that would condemn Israeli actions and create some kind of outside monitoring to help cool the latest uprising.
Diplomats said the timing was important: US Vice-President Dick Cheney is in the Middle East; US envoy Anthony Zinni is heading there; the violence appears to be spiraling out of control and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued his toughest statement ever earlier Tuesday, calling on both sides to avert a disaster.
The resolution "demands immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terror, provocation, incitement and destruction." It calls on the Israelis and Palestinians to cooperate in implementing steps leading to a resumption of negotiations on a political settlement.
In a statement added after late-night negotiations, it affirms for the first time in a council resolution "a vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders."
US President George W. Bush endorsed a Palestinian state at last November's UN General Assembly session and US Secretary of State Colin Powell used almost the exact words in the resolution in a speech in Louisville, Kentucky, on Nov. 19.
Previous Security Council resolutions dealing with Middle East peace have not explicitly referred to a Palestinian state because the issue was too contentious. When it became politically acceptable in recent years, there was a stalemate in the council on Middle East resolutions.
"It's the first time the Security Council spells out the vision of two states," Al-Kidwa said. "It names Israel and Palestine, and that's obviously an important step forward."
Syria's UN Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe said he abstained because the US resolution was "very weak" and didn't deal with the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "the question of the Israeli occupation."
"This resolution treats the killer and the victim on equal footing," he said.
Nonetheless, Syria abstained, rather that voting against the resolution, "to send a message" and not break the unity of the council, Wehbe said.
US Ambassador John Negroponte countered that it was "a strong resolution" capturing a broad consensus on the goals and next steps in the Middle East peace process and speaking out strongly against terrorism.
"Our intent in doing this was to give an impulse to peace efforts and to decry violence and terror," he said after the vote.
Israel's UN Ambassador Yehuda Lancry said he welcomed the "balanced" Security Council resolution on the Middle East, which he called "a rare and remarkable fact."