Security Council votes on Israeli pullout resolution


Sun, Nov 12, 2006 - Page 6

The UN Security Council voted yesterday on an Arab-backed draft resolution condemning the Israeli military offensive in Gaza and demanding a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the coastal strip, European diplomats said.

Members of the Security Council met briefly late on Friday afternoon to discuss the draft, which was softened somewhat from a version being circulated earlier this week.

Still, European diplomats said on Friday there remained concerns among some of the council members about the language of the draft, making passage uncertain. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because consultations were still taking place.

The US blocked a Security Council resolution this summer demanding Israel halt its offensive in the Gaza Strip, which it launched in June following the capture of an Israeli soldier by Hamas-linked Palestinian militants. It was the first Security Council veto in nearly two years.

Palestinians have denounced the Security Council's silence on the offensive this week, increasing its calls for action after an Israeli artillery barrage in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun killed 19 people on Wednesday.

It was the highest Palestinian civilian toll in a single incident since the current conflict erupted in September 2000. The highest toll of Israeli civilians was 29 killed in a Palestinian suicide bombing at a Passover gathering in March 2002.

Israel has expressed regret for the loss of life in Beit Hanoun but has said it will continue its operations to stop militants from launching rockets into Israel from Gaza.

The army said it was targeting areas where rockets had been fired in recent days at the Israeli cities. It said an investigation indicated the casualties were caused by a technical failure in the fire control system of an artillery battery.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is scheduled to visit Washington today to meet with President George W. Bush.

The draft resolution, which was introduced by Qatar, calls for Israel to immediately cease its military operations in the Gaza Strip and withdraw its troops. It also calls upon the Palestinian Authority to take "immediate and sustained action" to bring an end to violence, including the firing of rockets on Israeli territory.

Several diplomats from the US and other council nations had expressed concern on Thursday that an earlier version of the draft resolution made no mention of Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel.

The new draft also requests that the UN secretary-general establish a "fact-finding mission" to probe Wednesday's attack in Beit Hanoun, and asks the international community to restart the peace process with the "possible establishment of an international mechanism for protection of the civilian populations."

The last clause apparently replaces a section in an earlier draft seeking the deployment of a UN observer force on the Israeli-Gaza border.

During an open session on Thursday on the Gaza situation, UN Ambassador to the UN John Bolton called for restraint on all sides.

He said Israel must investigate the Beit Hanoun killings and take steps to avoid a repeat of the incident. He also condemned Palestinian militant rocket attacks into Israel, saying Israel has a right to defend itself.