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UN council eyes plea to shield Arafat, veto looms
( 2003-09-16 09:26) (Agencies)

Facing a U.S. veto threat, the Security Council set a vote for Tuesday on a resolution, backed by Arab nations, demanding that Israel not harm or deport Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

The council's late Monday decision to go to a vote on a resolution drafted by Palestinian U.N. envoy Nasser al-Kidwa capped a day of harsh debate in which more than 40 governments took the floor to condemn a decision by the Israeli security cabinet to get rid of Arafat through unspecified means.

Palestinian demonstrators carry a poster of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat during a demonstration of support in the West Bank city of Hebron Sept. 15, 2003. The top U.N. envoy for the Middle East warned that more bloodshed was inevitable unless the international road map for peace between Israel and the Palestinians was pushed forward more quickly.  [Reuters]
But Washington, Israel's closest ally, was "not prepared to support the resolution in its present form" because it did not explicitly condemn terrorism by Palestinian militant groups and was "very lopsided" against Israel, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte told reporters.

There is "a perfectly good peace plan already on the table" and senior officials of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations will be meeting later this month in New York to explore next steps on the Middle East, Negroponte said.

The draft resolution "demands that Israel, the occupying power, desist from any act of deportation and to cease any threat to the safety of the elected president of the Palestinian Authority."

Syria, the principal sponsor of the measure in the council on behalf of Arab and nonaligned nations, unveiled some last-minute changes in an attempt to broaden support.

It added, for example, a phrase expressing "grave concern" at the recent surge in violence, that attacks on both sides had "caused enormous suffering and many innocent victims."

But diplomats said the changes were unlikely to head off a U.S. veto.


Speaking at the start of the nearly eight-hour council debate, Terje Roed-Larsen, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, warned that peace plans had ground to a standstill and more bloodshed was inevitable unless the plans could be quickly pushed forward.

The best way to revive the international road map to peace between Israelis and Palestinians was for Israel to abandon its settlements on Palestinian lands, Roed-Larsen said.

"Without popular support, no Palestinian prime minister can at this stage counter terrorism and terror organizations in an effective manner," he said. "This essential public support could best be achieved, under the current circumstances, through abandonment of settlements."

Roed-Larsen criticized the Palestinians, in turn, for failing to take advantage of a recent cease-fire to carry out security reforms including consolidating security forces.

The U.N. envoy also questioned the Israeli decision in principle to "remove" Arafat, whom he called "the legitimate leader of the Palestinians."

Arafat's forceful removal could be dangerous as well as counterproductive to peace efforts, he warned.

Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman, dismissing Arafat as a liar and a "professional terrorist," predicted his removal would swiftly lead to an end to the conflict.

Arafat "is at the helm of those who have been supporting mega-terror attacks in the style of the bombing of the twin towers, to bring the region to the brink of catastrophe," Gillerman said, prompting al-Kidwa to walk out of the chamber.

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