The UN Security Council sought the release of foreigners kidnapped in retaliation for an Israeli raid on a Palestinian prison and expressed serious concern at the raid, but appeared unlikely to come down hard against Israel as Qatar proposed.
Top UN officials, meanwhile, warned that the latest violence in the West Bank only heightened tensions in the region and urged both sides to defuse the crisis.
"Israel's violent incursion, as well as the Palestinian actions carried out in response, risk destabilizing even further the already tense situation in the Middle East," Ibrahim Gambari, the UN undersecretary-general for political affairs, told the Security Council in an emergency meeting on Tuesday.
Representing Arab nations on the council and backed by the Palestinian government, Qatar distributed a draft presidential statement that would call on Israel to end its "continued onslaught" against the Palestinian-run prison.
The Qatar draft would also demand that Israel return the prisoners it seized "and to return the situation to that which existed prior to the Israeli military attack."
The proposal ran into early opposition from the United States and other members of the council, and was being revised, diplomats said. Qatar could introduce another text on Wednesday.
As a result of the dispute, the council issued a milder statement Tuesday afternoon. It expressed concern about an upsurge in violence, urged all sides to exercise restraint, and called for the release of foreigners who were kidnapped in retaliation.
Unlike press statements, presidential statements become part of the Security Council record.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for "an immediate end to the violence, respect for civilian lives, and urgent steps to restore calm," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said at UN headquarters in New York.
The Palestinian observer to the UN, Riyad Mansour, urged tougher council action, saying that Israel was violating international law and the Security Council should hold it accountable.
Israel's UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman defended the raid, saying it came in response to the monitors' decision to leave and recent statements by Palestinian officials and Hamas leaders of plans to release its most-wanted prisoners.
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