The Palestinians accused Israel on Friday of launching a premeditated military assault in Gaza to sabotage Palestinian unity and collectively punish and terrorize hundreds of thousands of civilians. Israel countered that Gaza has become "a terror base" actively supported by the Hamas-led government.
Palestinian and Israeli diplomats traded accusations at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council which Arab nations requested to demand that the UN's most powerful body order a halt to the Israel offensive which followed the abduction of an Israeli soldier.
Palestinian UN Observer Riyad Mansour said Israel's air and ground assault on Gaza using warplanes, tank artillery bombardment, and shelling from naval units was "collectively punishing and terrorizing the Palestinian civilian population ... (which) is now under complete siege."
Israel's deputy UN ambassador Daniel Carmon disagreed, saying Israel responded to the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit "after long weeks of Israeli restraint in the face of numerous attempted kidnappings and unceasing Kassam rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip that have targeted civilians, schools and homes" and traumatized children.
He said the Israeli army's presence is limited "to a very small area in southern Gaza" with the sole aim of preventing Shalit from being smuggled outside the Gaza Strip. "Its objective is not punishment or retaliation," Carmon stressed.
But Mansour accused Israel of planning "a major invasion" of Gaza and mobilizing troops before Shalit was captured on June 25 "to sabotage the recent agreement between President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party and the Hamas-led government.
Israel's goal, he said, is "to ultimately cause the complete collapse" of the Palestinian Authority so Israel can say it has no "partner for peace" and go ahead with unilateral measures.
Carmon countered that Israel completely withdrew from the Gaza Strip last August with the hope of "re-energizing the peace process."
"Instead, the response was ... an increase in terror attacks," he said. "Gaza is now a terror base, actively supported by the elected Hamas government. Israel is under attack day in and day out."
Mansour called on the council to condemn the Israeli aggression, to order an immediate cessation of hostilities, and demand the release of 64 Palestinians, mainly elected officials, arrested by Israel.
But no resolution was circulated to council members on Friday, apparently because of U.S. opposition to any council action.
US Ambassador John Bolton said he did not think a resolution was advisable, cautioning the council "to avoid taking any steps that would unexpectedly exacerbate tensions in the region," given the complexity of the situation.
He called for the immediate and unconditional release of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit by Hamas, saying this was the best way to resolve the immediate crisis.
But to establish lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Bolton said Syria and Iran must "end their role as state sponsors of terror and unequivocally condemn the actions of Hamas, including this kidnapping."
He also called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to arrest Hamas' top political leader Khaled Mashaal, who lives in Damascus, and close the militant group's office in the Syrian capital.
Israel's Carmon urged the international community to pressure the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, "including its members and sponsors in Damascus," to release Shalit "and to finally bring an end to the use of Palestinian territory as a base for terrorist operations."