Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said a telephone call he made to US President George W. Bush last week forced US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to abstain in a UN vote on the Gaza war, leaving her “shamed.”
Pouring on political bravado in a speech late on Monday, Olmert said he demanded to talk to Bush with only 10 minutes to spare before a UN Security Council vote on Thursday on a resolution opposed by Israel calling for an immediate ceasefire.
“When we saw that the secretary of state, for reasons we did not really understand, wanted to vote in favor of the UN resolution ... I looked for President Bush and they told me he was in Philadelphia making a speech,” Olmert said.
“I said, ‘I don’t care. I have to talk to him now,’” Olmert said, describing Bush, who leaves office next Tuesday, as “an unparalleled friend” of Israel.
“They got him off the podium, brought him to another room and I spoke to him. I told him, ‘You can’t vote in favor of this resolution.’ He said, ‘Listen, I don’t know about it, I didn’t see it, I’m not familiar with the phrasing.’”
Olmert said he then told Bush: “’I’m familiar with it. You can’t vote in favor.’”
“He gave an order to the secretary of state and she did not vote in favor of it — a resolution she cooked up, phrased, organized and maneuvered for. She was left pretty shamed and abstained on a resolution she arranged,” Olmert said.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops battled Palestinian militants in the streets of a densely populated Gaza City neighborhood early yesterday, destroying dozens of homes and sending terrified residents running for cover as gunfire and explosions echoed in the distance.
Israel’s push into the Tel Hawwa neighborhood was the furthest it had moved into Gaza City during an 18-day offensive against Hamas, bringing Israel’s ground forces within 1.5km of the crowded city center. Palestinian hospital officials say more than 900 Palestinians, half of them civilians, have been killed.
Israel launched the offensive on Dec. 27 to end years of Palestinian rocket attacks on its southern towns, and Olmert has vowed to press forward with an “iron fist.”
Palestinian witnesses said the Israeli forces moved overnight about 300m into Tel Hawwa, a neighborhood of high-rise buildings on the southeastern edge of Gaza City.
Palestinian medical officials reported at least 16 people killed in fighting, though the Israeli army suggested the number could be much higher.
The Israeli military said it carried out some 60 airstrikes overnight, hitting groups of Hamas militants holed up in a hotel, a house and a mosque. It said it also struck 15 squads of gunmen, rocket launching sites and 15 smuggling tunnels along the Egyptian border.
The army said it had killed or wounded about 30 militants, and that three soldiers were wounded in overnight fighting.
The Gaza fighting has raised regional tensions and galvanized anger toward Israel throughout the Arab world. More gunmen opened fire at an Israeli patrol along the desert border between Israel and Jordan yesterday, the military said. There were no casualties, and Jordan said the claim was “baseless.”
There was a similar shooting incident on the Israel-Syria border on Sunday, and last week militants in Lebanon fired rockets into an Israeli town in an apparent attempt to draw Israel into a second front.