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US vetoes UN condemnation of Israel
( 2003-10-15 13:52) (Agencies)

The United States on Tuesday vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israel for building a barrier that cuts into the West Bank.

The American veto came after the United States suggested an alternate draft that would have called on all parties in the Middle East work to dismantle terrorist groups. But Syria, which had introduced the draft, went ahead with the vote anyway.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ben Gillerman addresses the Security Council during a meeting on the situation in the Middle East at U.N. headquarters in New York, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2003.  [AP]
The United States was the only country to vote against, using its veto as one of five permanent members of the council. Four of the 15 members of the Security Council abstained: Bulgaria, Cameroon, Germany and Britain.

The Palestinian U.N. observer, Nasser Al-Kidwa, lamented the American decision and said there can be no peace process so long as Israel is building the barrier.

"You cannot have this construction of the expansionist wall and simply pretend that the roadmap exists," Al-Kidwa said. "It's either or."

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the resolution "was unbalanced" and "did not further the goals of peace and security in the region."

The vote came after a fierce daylong open debate that saw several of about 40 countries that spoke portray the wall as racist and colonialist, and an overreaction that would turn some parts of the Palestinian territories into "open-air prisons."

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad, whose country is the only Arab nation on the 15-member council, introduced the draft resolution Thursday on behalf of the 22-member Arab League.

The request for Security Council action came a week after the Israeli Cabinet approved an extension of the barrier that would sweep around Jewish settlements deep in the West Bank.

Before last week's decision, the barrier ! a network of fences, walls, razor wires and trenches ! had largely kept to the 1967 Israel-West Bank dividing line known as the "Green Line," diverting in some places a few miles into the West Bank to enclose Jewish settlements.

After the open meeting, the Security Council had adjourned and diplomats said the United States was proposing changes. Negroponte has insisted any resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must condemn terrorist activities by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups.

A council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Palestinians indicated they were willing to continue discussions on the draft but Syria forced the vote even though it knew the United States would veto it.

Al-Kidwa said some ideas "were non-starters for us," citing attempts "to add elements in grossly imbalanced way ! specifically if somebody wants to condemn Haifa, without condemning Rafah, or condemning suicide bombings without condemning war crimes. This is nonsense."

Israel has destroyed dozens of homes and killed at least eight Palestinians in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza as it searched for tunnels it says are used by Palestinians to smuggle weapons from Egypt.

Al-Kidwa said if council members show "a readiness to engage in a serious way" on the resolution and feel they need more time he would agree to delay a vote on the resolution, "but if the same non-starter ideas keep coming, why do we wait?"

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman praised the veto, saying the resolution "failed to draw attention to Palestinian terrorism."

Gillerman said the barrier allowed the passage of some Palestinians and it would allow greater freedom of movement for many Palestinians because Israel would remove roadblocks within the West Bank.

Al-Kidwa said the Palestinians would seek an emergency session of the General Assembly to introduce a similar resolution. General Assembly resolutions ! unlike those of the council ! aren't legally binding but carry symbolic weight.

The United States has frequently vetoed Arab-backed resolutions seeking to censure Israel because they did not contain explicit condemnations of terrorist groups.

In September, the United States had vetoed an Arab-backed resolution that demanded Israel halt threats to expel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The Palestinians took that before the General Assembly, where it passed 133-4, with 15 abstentions.

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