Sun, Nov 19, 2006 - Page 6 News List

UN passes Middle East peace resolution

SIGNIFICANT MESSAGE The measure obtained overwhelming support from most countries, although the US voted against it, claiming that it was biased against Israel

AFP , UNITED NATIONS

The UN General Assembly on Friday overwhelmingly passed a resolution urging an "immediate" end to all acts of violence by Israelis and Palestinians, including the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip and rocket firing into Israel.

Some 156 countries, including the 25-member EU, voted in favor of the Arab-sponsored resolution, while seven, including the US, Israel and Australia, voted against and six, including Canada, abstained.

The text also asks the UN secretary-general to set up a fact-finding mission to probe the Israeli shelling of the Gaza town of Beit Hanun which killed 19 Palestinians, mainly children and women, last week.

Palestinian UN observer Riyad Mansour immediately welcomed the General Assembly's "overwhelming support" and said the resolution sent a "significant message" to the Israelis "that they have to comply with the law and the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."

Israel's deputy UN representative Daniel Carmon deplored the resolution that he said condemned Israel "simply for fighting for its survival."

He said that the text equated "terrorism" with "the action taken by Israel in self-defense in fighting terrorism."

Israel, which has expressed regret for the Beit Hanun shelling, said it was the result of a technical error.

The resolution also urges Israel, "the occupying power, to immediately cease its military operations that endangers the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and to immediately withdraw its forces from within the Gaza Strip."

The vote capped an acrimonious emergency special session of the 192-member assembly called by Qatar after Arab states accused the UN Security Council of failing to shoulder its responsibility by not condemning Israel's military onslaught in Gaza.

Yesterday, the US vetoed a similar draft in the 15-member Security Council, also introduced by Qatar on behalf of Arab states, that would have condemned Israel's deadly attack in the Gaza Strip, calling the text "unbalanced" and "biased."

The vote on the General Assembly resolution, which was amended several times to attract wider support, was delayed after the US raised objections in the assembly's budget committee about the cost of and need for the proposed UN probe of the Beit Hanun incident.

On Wednesday, the UN Human Rights Council voted to send an urgent fact-finding mission to Beit Hanun to examine the impact of Israel's deadly attack on Palestinian homes there.

The Assembly resolution asked the UN chief to report back to the General Assembly on the outcome of the Beit Hanun probe within 30 days.

"The way to get peace in the Middle East is for Israel and its Arab counterparts to have direct negotiations and what goes on here is counterproductive to that effort," US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said. "It's theater but it is not a substitute for actual negotiation among the parties involved."

"What about the fact-finding mission that the Human Rights Council has agreed to?" he added. "How many fact-finding missions does it take to screw in a light bulb?"

Bolton questioned whether the estimated US$131,000 cost of the fact-finding mission could be absorbed by the world body.

He said the text "fails to take a realistic, fair and constructive approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and "serves only to exacerbate tensions by serving the interests of elements hostile to Israel's inalienable and recognized right to exist."

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