Arab States Again Push UN Council on Israeli Strike in Gaza

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UNITED NATIONS - Arab nations pressed the Security Council again on Friday to pass a resolution on Israel's deadly air raid on Gaza City, and the council agreed to discuss the matter behind closed doors.

Palestinian UN observer Nasser al-Kidwa said Arab envoys had not yet decided whether to seek a quick vote on their draft resolution, which demands the "withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces from Palestinian cities" and a cessation of all violence, military actions and "and acts of terror."

Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock of Britain, the council's president for July, said he did not expect a vote on Friday.

The United States has said it would oppose any Middle East resolution at this time, arguing that a new text would not help sensitive Middle East diplomatic efforts already under way.

In the past, Washington has changed its mind at the last minute and supported revised versions of Arab-drafted resolutions or U.S.-drafted substitutes.

The Arab draft resolution would state that the 15-nation Security Council was "gravely concerned at the extrajudiciary execution" in Gaza City and "alarmed at the reoccupation of Palestinian cities" by Israel's armed forces.

It would appeal to both Israelis and Palestinians to fully cooperate in efforts to end the violence and resume peace talks, and would reiterate the council's support for the efforts of the "Quartet" of Middle East negotiators - the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

Arab nations first put forward a draft text on the Middle East crisis on Wednesday, after an Israeli airstrike the day before killed 15 Palestinians in Gaza City, including nine children and a militant leader.

New draft embraces Arab peace plan The council held an open debate on the attack on Wednesday evening, but afterward, Arab envoys differed over their next steps on the text. Until then the text had been circulated only informally by Saudi Arabia as current head of the Arab group.

Council sources said Syria, the sole Arab nation with a seat on the council, thought the text was too weak.

Arab envoys met again on Friday morning and endorsed a new draft, identical to the earlier version except that it added a phrase reiterating council support for an Arab peace plan put forward by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and endorsed at a Beirut summit in March.

Shortly before Greenstock announced a 3:30 p.m. EDT (1930 GMT) council meeting to discuss the new draft, however, Palestinian gunmen sprayed gunfire at two Israeli vehicles in the West Bank, killing four people in an attack raising fears of a new surge of Middle East violence following the Israeli air raid.

During Wednesday's debate, Israel was roundly criticized for the air attack targeting Hamas military commander Salah Shehada.

Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian envoy, said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his "lieutenants" should be tried for war crimes.

Israel's deputy ambassador, Aaron Jacob, expressed regret at the civilian deaths but said the action was precipitated by the failure of the Palestinian Authority to stop "one of the most prolific and brutal terrorists."



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