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UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the UN Security Council on Friday to take a stand on Israel's violent standoff with Hamas, as diplomats continued to grapple with a draft resolution proposed by Qatar.
The council has been stymied because several council members rejected a draft that would have condemned Israel's offensive. They said it was unfairly critical of the Israelis and did not mention Palestinian abuses.
As a result, the Security Council, which is the United Nations' most powerful body, has been silent on one of the worst crises to hit the Middle East in years. In two days of airstrikes, Israeli troops have killed 31 Palestinians as part of a campaign aimed at stopping rocket attacks on Israel and pressuring the Hamas government to secure the release of 19-year-old Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
Hamas said Friday that Shalit, seized June 25, is alive and being treated well. It also urged Israel to negotiate.
Annan's appeal - in which he urged the council to take a clear position on the situation - was brief, but it could be seen as a relatively rare rebuke of the council. It also reflected Annan's impatience that the council had not addressed the issue in any way.
On Thursday, Qatar circulated a draft resolution demanding that Israel end the offensive in the Gaza Strip and release the Palestinian officials it has arrested.
It faced immediate opposition from the United States and France. On Friday, a UN diplomat said the draft only had the support of one or two members of the 15-nation council, and Qatar was reworking it. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the text.
In his statement, Annan again appealed to Israel and the Palestinians to "pull back from the brink for the sake of all civilians in the region."
He called on Israel to halt what he said was the disproportionate use of force, demanded Shalit's release, and reminded both sides of their humanitarian obligation to spare civilians from violence.