UNITED NATIONS -
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan harshly criticized Israel on Tuesday, calling on it to
rein in its attacks on Palestinian civilians and end its
"illegal occupation" of Palestinian lands.
In an emotional plea delivered at a public meeting of the
U.N. Security Council, Annan said the Middle East death toll
had soared to appalling levels and urged leaders on both sides
to "lead your peoples away from disaster."
United States Ambassador to the United Nations John D. Negroponte (L) confers with British Ambassador to the U.N. Jeremy Greenstock prior to a U.N. Security Council meeting on the crisis in the Middle East at U.N. headquarters in New York, March 12, 2002. Annan called on Isreal to end their "illegal occupation" of the Palestinian territory and for an end to violence in the region by both sides in the conflict. REUTERS/Mike Segar
In his toughest message to date to Israel, he said, "You
must end the illegal occupation" of lands captured in the 1967
Middle East war. Aides said it was the first time Annan had
branded the occupations as illegal.
And he appealed to Israeli defense forces to stop "the
bombing of civilian areas, the assassinations, the unnecessary
use of lethal force, the demolitions and the daily humiliation
of ordinary Palestinians."
"Such actions gravely erode Israel's standing in the
international community and further fuel the fires of hatred,
despair and extremism among Palestinians," Annan said.
He also slammed the Palestinians, saying they "have played
their full part in the escalating cycle of violence,
counter-violence and revenge," and calling on them to stop all
acts of terror.
He was "particularly disturbed" by the rise in Palestinian
suicide bombings deliberately targeting civilians, he said,
calling such attacks "morally repugnant."
But the Palestinian U.N. representative, Nasser al-Kidwa,
quickly praised Annan's statement as "the strongest, the
clearest position the secretary-general has come up with" on
the Middle East since the beginning of a Palestinian uprising
in September 1999 that the United Nations says has claimed some
The Palestinians will ask the Security Council to adopt a
resolution putting more pressure on Israel, although he
understood some of the council's 15 member-nations preferred to
adopt a weaker nonbinding statement on the Middle East
situation, he said.
"We prefer a more formal action by the Security Council,
but of course we will be looking at everything which might be
presented to us by any member of the council," al-Kidwa told
The United States, Israel's closest ally, has in the past
used its veto power -- or the threat of a veto -- to block
council action on Palestinian-backed resolutions, saying peace
efforts must come from the two sides.
Washington has announced plans to send its Middle East
envoy Anthony Zinni back to the region later this week to press
for a cease-fire, and Annan urged both sides to work closely
with Zinni toward a resumption of the peace process.
Israeli U.N. Ambassador Yehuda Lancry played down the
significance of Annan's demand that Israel withdraw from the
occupied Palestinian territories, saying Israel had already
agreed to do so in principle.
"In September 1993 we entered a process in order to
negotiate the end of the situation as it is with the
Palestinians. Even Prime Minister (Ariel) Sharon envisioned the
establishment of a Palestinian state," he told reporters.
"That is an equivalent to an end of the current
negotiations, on an agreed basis. Of course, we have to
negotiate this, so it is not a new development," Lancry said.
He said Israeli defense forces were "compelled" to follow
their current strategy by a relentless "Palestinian terrorist
campaign" and said Palestinian suicide bombings were often more
deadly and did more damage than the Israeli army.
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