US expected to veto condemnation of Israeli siege

BEIT HANOUN, GAZA STRIP: Palestinian relatives mourn during the Athamna family funeral in Beit Hanoun town on 9 November 2006 in Gaza Strip. The Families of 20 Palestinian civilians including the children and women who were killed by Israeli tanks shelling, in the town of Beit Hanoun on November 8, buried them in the new cemetery of AL-Shohada or the Martyrs. (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)

UNITED NATIONS (11 November 2006) - THE UN Security Council met in an emergency meeting on Thursday called by Qatar to tackle the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Qatar, the only Arab nation on the 15-member Security Council, proposed a resolution condemning Israel and ordering a ceasefire. However few believe the resolution can succeed due to opposition from the United States. The vote will take place Saturday.

The draft resolution calls for Israel to immediately cease its military operations in the Gaza Strip and withdraw its troops and a UN observer force to enforce the ceasefire. 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.

It requests the U.N. 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" - as was done in southern Lebanon after the 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah that ended in August

The UNSC's acceptance to hold the session came after it rejected an earlier Qatari request made calling on the Zionist state, which the Qatari draft described as an "occupation force", to stop its aggressions against the unarmed Palestinian people, and to open an investigation into the massacre.

In Palestine, tens of thousands on Thursday laid to rest the victims of the Israeli shelling of innocent civilians in Beit Hanun city in the northern part of the besieged Gaza Strip on Wednesday that claimed the lives of 20 civilians including seven children and seven women, all but three of them from the same family. The angry participants condemned the Arab and international silence towards such carnage, charging that such silence only encouraged Israel to go ahead in its aggression and bloody massacres in lines of the Palestinian people. A similar huge procession took place in Gaza city where thousands laid to rest two fighters affiliated with the Qassam Brigades who were assassinated in an Israeli missile raid. In the West Bank, tens of marches were organized in different cities, villages and refugee camps to protest what many are terming Israeli butchery.

During the UNSCR session, assistant UN secretary general for Political Affairs, Angela Kane, detailed the events that led to tragedy in the town of Beit Hanun in the north of the Gaza Strip, where Israeli forces killed 20 civilians, mostly women and children, and wounded 60 others. They were killed when Israeli tanks fired point blank at civilian homes.

Speaking from Jerusalem, Director of UNRWA operations in Palestine, John Ging also called on the international community to immediately intervene to provide urgent protection to the unarmed Palestinian civilians in Gaza Strip, and to stop the IOF troops' violence against them. Ging's remarks were spurred by the scenes of horror, murder, and destruction he has seen in the beleaguered city of Beit Hanun at the hands of the IOF troops over the past eight days. He also urged "the decision-making quarters in this world" to immediately mobilize to rescue the bereaved people of Beit Hanun.

Another UN arm, UNICEF, was shocked with what had happened in the city, pointing out that at least 68 Palestinians were killed since November 2, including 14 children. The organization that cares for children in the world revealed that 113 Palestinian children had fallen victims of IOF troops' atrocities this year, adding that the figure was double the one recorded in the year 2005. However, UNICEF highlighted that Palestinian children, who comprise 50 per cent of the Palestinian population, were forced to remain in their homes most of the time over fears of possible IOF troops' attacks. The organization furthermore asserted that Palestinian children should live their normal life as the rest of the world's children, including providing them with the basic needs of life and allowing them easy access to their schools away of threats.

At the UN, Ryiad Mansour, representative of the Palestine Authority, said the massacre at Beit Hanun is "state terrorism" and urged for those involved to be held responsible. He said Israeli apologies for such incidents were insincere and no longer acceptable. "This is terrorism, this is state terrorism."

He asked: "How many more Palestinians have to die before the Security Council acts?

After lamenting the inaction of the Security Council and international community as a whole, Mansour said the "culture of impunity" in Israel cannot continue. "We have warned that the absence of a firm stance by the international community to seek an immediate end to the Israeli aggressions will result in a greater massacre of Palestinians," he said.

"These are war crimes for which the perpetrators must be held accountable under international law." Ryiad Mansour, Palestinian UN Observer
"These are war crimes for which the perpetrators must be held accountable under international law."

But an Israeli diplomat insisted that Wednesday's deadly shelling in Beit Hanoun had been "accidental."

Israel was "deeply saddened" by it and doing its utmost to avoid a repetition, Israeli envoy Daniel Carmon said, echoing similar regrets and explanations made after its attack on the UN observation post in Qana, Lebanon killed 28 civilians and four UN peacekeepers.

The council met at the request of the 22-member Arab League, the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the 116-nation Non-Aligned Movement after what Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, referred to as "a technical failure" but which Palestinian leaders have called a massacre.

The 20 dead, including seven children and four women, were buried at a mass funeral in Gaza on Thursday.

Since the end of June, more than 450 Palestinians had been killed in the Gaza Strip, "making death, mourning and grief a near-daily ritual for the people of Gaza," Mansour said.

Ceasefire or US veto?

But the US, Israel's protector and one of five permanent council members with veto power, typically opposes ceasefires and council intervention in the Middle East conflict as allegedly ineffective in ending the Arab-Israeli so-called cycle of violence. The veto-wielding USA has repeatedly argued that the UNSC "shouldn't bother itself with the conflict in the Middle East", opining that the UNSC's role is "ineffective" - despite the fact that the UN has voted over 70 resolutions over the years against Israel.

John Bolton, the US ambassador, said: "Despite all of the emotion in the air, we must have an honest and even-handed discussion of recent events in Gaza". He urged Israel to quickly look into the artillery attack and take steps to avoid a repetition while blaming the victims for their murder - demanding the Hamas government, which refuses to recognise Israel and reject violence, "to prevent terror and take the necessary steps to stop attacks from within Gaza", as if Hamas is a security cop for Israeli occupation.

"Progress requires a commitment to peace from both sides of the conflict," Bolton said.

Even spokesman for the Saudi government, a virtual ally of Israel, denounced what he called the "carnage".

On 18 November the 57-member Organization of Islamic States will meet to discuss Israel's siege of Gaza and the beleagured Palestinian people.

Palestinian youths chant slogans and raise their clenched fist during a protest in the Ein el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, near the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon, Friday, 10 November 2006. Hundreds of supporters of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Asbat al-Ansar and other Islamic groups staged a demonstration following Friday prayers calling for attacks inside Israel to retaliate for the Gaza offensive. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

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