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The Palestinians denounced the Security Council's silence on Israel's offensive in Gaza, urging the United Nations' most powerful body to condemn the killing of 18 family members and demand a withdrawal of IDF troops from the coastal strip.
Israel again expressed regret for the deaths, but blamed the tragedy on Palestinian violence that has forced Israel to defend itself.
At a daylong open meeting of the Security Council on Thursday, speaker after speaker denounced the killings and criticized what they described as Israel's excessive use of force in its current offensives in Gaza.
Qatar introduced an Arab-backed draft resolution demanding the withdrawal of IDF troops from the Gaza Strip and condemning Israeli attacks, particularly Wednesday's killings in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun. It also calls for a mutual cease-fire and the deployment of a UN observer force on the Israel-Gaza border.
Several diplomats from the US and other council nations expressed concern at the contents of the resolution, noting that it makes no mention of Palestinian rocket attacks into Israeli towns and villages near the Gaza Strip.
Council experts met Thursday and France and Britain proposed several amendments, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the talks were closed. The experts were to meet again Friday morning to assess when to put the draft in a final form that could be put to a vote.
Palestinian UN observer Riyad Mansour said "it's very conceivable that the voting may take place" on Friday.
"When you have 45 speakers in two sessions expressing massive condemnation of the atrocities, especially the Beit Hanun massacre and the support to the struggle of the Palestinian people ... that is very telling. It should reflect itself in the negotiations," he said.
Describing the IDF attack in Beit Hanun, Mansour said residents "awoke to the gruesome scene of blood and body parts scattered around their neighborhood."
"This is terrorism," Mansour said. "This is state terrorism. These are war crimes for which the perpetrators must be held accountable under international law."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday the artillery strike was aimed at an orange grove used by rocket squads to attack Israel, but it missed its target because of a "technical error."
Israel's deputy UN Ambassador Daniel Carmon told the council his country was "deeply saddened by this heartbreaking occurrence" in Beit Hanun. But he defended Israel's right to defend itself from Palestinian rocket attacks, saying Gaza had "become a command center for terror organizations" since Israel's pullout from the territory last year.
"Although the Palestinian civilians killed in this incident may have been killed by Israeli fire, they are in fact the victims of Hamas terrorism," Carmon said, condemning the Hamas-led Palestinian government for rejecting international demands that it recognize Israel and renounce violence.
"The Palestinian leadership cannot demand national rights, while refusing to fulfill its national responsibility," he said. "The Palestinian Authority must be held accountable for what happens in its territory and population."
Later, Carmon accused the Palestinians of launching "more terror" at Israel on Thursday with new rocket attacks.
Mansour rejected the "repulsive and repeated statements by Israel officials stating their regret."
"Israel is always quick to respond with a forked tongue," he said. "However in the same vein, its occupying forces continue to commit crime after crime with a culture of impunity."
US Ambassador John Bolton called for restraint on all sides.
He said Israel must quickly complete an investigation into the killings and take steps to "avoid a repetition of this tragic incident."
He also condemned rocket attacks into Israel, saying "there is no question that Israel has a right to defend itself and the lives of its citizens."
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