UN to Convene Session on Beit Hanun

NEW YORK - The Israel Defense Forces' operations in the Gaza Strip and last week's incident in Beit Hanun that killed 19 civilians will be the subject today of a special emergency session at the United Nations.

The discussion was initiated by the UN's Muslim bloc countries, in response to a U.S. veto in the Security Council last week of a draft decision that included a condemnation of Israel for the shelling in Beit Hanun.

A draft of the proposal includes the main operative measures that made up the Qatari proposal vetoed by the United States last week. The draft calls on the UN secretary-general to dispatch a "fact-finding mission" to investigate the Beit Hanun incident.

The draft proposal also includes a clause that calls for the establishment of an "international mechanism" for the protection of Gaza's civilian population.

In its efforts to thwart the proposal, Israel's delegation to the UN has held talks with representatives from the United States and other central members of the organization. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has also instructed its missions abroad to makes efforts to prevent approval of the draft proposal.

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council, which has censured only one country - Israel - during its six-month existence, voted yesterday to send a fact-finding mission to Beit Hanun.

The 47-nation council approved a resolution sponsored by the body's powerful Muslim bloc condemning the Israeli artillery barrage in Beit Hanun and other "human rights violations" in the Palestinian territories.

Israeli Ambassador Itzhak Levanon said the special session was just another example of the council's lack of objectivity and the "one-sided resolution" would plunge the rights body "into politicization and accelerate its destruction."

Members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference were joined by China, Russia and Cuba in supporting the resolution, which was adopted by 32-8 with 6 abstentions.

Though most European Union members of the council voted against the resolution, saying it was too one-sided, France abstained. Massod Khan, Pakistan's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, spoke on behalf of the 57-member OIC, which joined in requesting the one-day special session on Israel - the council's third such emergency meeting since it began operations last June. Khan rejected criticism that the OIC was unbalanced in singling out Israel, saying, "We cannot create a balance between those who killed and those who were killed."

The Beit Hanun shelling, which Israel said was unintended, came after Israeli troops wound up a week-long incursion meant to curb Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel from the town, which the Israeli army said was a rocket-launching stronghold.

U.S. Ambassador Warren W. Tichenor said the casualties in Beit Hanun were tragic, but asserted the council had no business talking about the Israeli operations, which "are clearly governed by the law of war."