UN debates urging Israel to halt Gaza bombings

Russian-drafted press statement would also call for an immediate cessation of rocket attacks on Israeli territory from Gaza.

UNSC 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
UNSC 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The UN Security Council held emergency consultations Saturday night and early Sunday on the Israeli bombings in Hamas-ruled Gaza and debated whether to adopt a statement urging Israel to halt its military operations "without delay." The Russian-drafted press statement would also call for an immediate cessation of rocket attacks on Israeli territory from Gaza. Libya, on behalf of the Arab Group of nations at the UN, called the late night council meeting after Israeli warplanes rained more than 100 tons of bombs on security sites in Gaza on Saturday and early Sunday, killing at least 230 people. Israel said the bombardment - one of the Mideast's bloodiest assaults in decades - was aimed at stopping rocket attacks from Gaza that have traumatized southern Israel. "There is no justification for this whatsoever," Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN observer, told reporters before the council began its closed-door consultations. "This collective punishment is inhumane, immoral and should be stopped immediately. There is no justification for punishing 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza because of the actions of a few." "The Security Council should demand that this be stopped immediately," Mansour said. Libyan diplomats were pressing for an open council meeting and adoption of a presidential statement, which must be agreed by all 15 council members and becomes part of the official council record. But there appeared to be reluctance among some members to hold an open meeting because of concerns of inflaming the situation. Instead, Russia circulated a proposed press statement, which is less important than a presidential statement because it does not become part of the council's official record, but still reflects the views of the UN's most powerful body. The Russian draft expresses "serious concern at the escalation of the situation in Gaza," stresses "the need for the restoration of calm," and calls for "an immediate opening of the border crossings into Gaza and for an unrestricted humanitarian access in the area, including supplies of food, fuel and provision of medical treatment." The Arabs proposed a number of amendments to the Russian text, including urging Israel to halt its military operations "immediately," stressing the numerous Palestinian deaths, especially among civilians as well as the destruction of property. Earlier Saturday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed deep alarm at the violence and bloodshed in Gaza and condemned Israel's "excessive use of force" leading to the death and injury of civilians. He also expressed deep alarm at the continuing rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists in southern Israel and expressed deep distress "that repeated calls on Hamas for these attacks to end have gone unheeded," UN deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said. "He appeals for an immediate halt to all violence," she said. During the day, the UN said Ban made calls about the escalating violence to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel's prime minister and foreign minister, the presidents of Egypt and Turkey, the foreign ministers of Russia and Britain, the head of the Arab League and the European Union's foreign policy chief.