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European Union diplomats at the United Nations were busy yesterday with efforts to soften the language of a draft resolution on the deaths of at least 19 Palestinian civilians in an accidental IDF shelling of Beit Hanun last Wednesday. The resolution will be brought to a vote on Friday at an emergency session of the General Assembly.

The original text of the draft resolution, which was initiated by Arab states, includes an article calling for the creation of "an international mechanism" that will protect the civilian population in the Gaza Strip.

The draft resolution also calls on Secretary General Kofi Annan to send a "fact finding team" to Beit Hanun to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident that led to the deaths of Palestinian civilians.

Both these articles were included in the draft resolution initiated by Qatar and foiled by an American veto at a Security Council vote last week. The European diplomats are trying to make changes to the one-sided character of the resolution so that European Union countries can support it during the vote.

From Israel's point of view, an emergency gathering of the General Assembly whose declared intention is to bypass the Security Council, is a very grave development.

At the same time, senior Israeli diplomats at the UN made it clear yesterday that even if the Europeans did succeed in making changes to the current draft resolution, Israel would reject any such resolution that would be passed at an emergency session of the General Assembly.

"The draft is certainly extreme," a senior Israeli diplomat at the UN said yesterday.

However, the draft resolution is expected to pass with a large majority, in view of the fact that all Arab, Muslim and non-aligned countries automatically back resolutions supportive of the Palestinian cause.

In a previous emergency General Assembly vote held on 20 July, 2004 - on the separation fence and the opinion of the International Court of Justice on the issue - 150 member states voted in favor, six against and 10 abstained.