UNITED NATIONS - The United States used its political muscle Tuesday to thwart an unequivocal condemnation of Israel for the targeted assassination of a wheel-chair bound Palestinian described as the spiritual leader of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.
A presidential statement by the 15-member U.N. Security Council condemning the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, 67, was blocked by the United States because it insisted on changing the text to include a denunciation of Hamas for its ''terrorist activities''.
Algeria, the only Arab member state in the Security Council, was forced to withdraw the statement because of U.S. opposition, signifying lack of consensus. The text had been drafted by members of the Arab Group at the United Nations.
U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte listen to questions during a press briefing at the United Nations in New York, Tuesday March 23, 2004. The U.S. disagreed with members of the Security Council on a statement condemning the Israeli assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, paving the way for an open Security Council meeting. (Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
''The United States tried to kill the statement by subverting its text,'' an Arab diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS.
Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere of France, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, told reporters the statement was shelved because ''it was not possible to reach a consensus''.
Added U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who refused to yield on the Council statement: ''The essential point here was that the proponents of this statement did not want to refer to terrorism conducted by Hamas, and that was the fundamental objection we had..''
As a result, the Arab Group called for a two-day open meeting of the Security Council beginning Tuesday to discuss the Israeli murder. The group plans to introduce a resolution condemning Israel at the conclusion of the session.
But Washington is expected to veto the resolution -- as it has done on several previous occasions -- in order to protect Israel from U.N. censure.
The United States is one of five permanent members of the Security Council that have the power to veto any resolution.
In Geneva, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights voted to hold a special session on Wednesday to consider the killing. Thirty-four states voted for the meeting, 14 abstained from the vote and three, the United States, Australia and Eritrea, voted against.
In a statement issued Monday, the White House said it was ''deeply troubled'' by the assassination of Yassin but scrupulously avoided directly criticizing Israel.
Although the United States said it had no advance knowledge of the attack, Hamas leaders said it was done in connivance with Washington. And for the first time, Hamas also threatened to retaliate against the United States.
The U.S. decision to protect Israel from condemnation contrasted sharply with strong denunciations from Western Europe and leaders of the Arab world.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan publicly condemned the assassination, adding that extra-judicial killings are against international law. He called on the government of Israel ''to immediately end this practice''.
Mark Lance, associate professor of justice and peace at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, argues that two recent major attacks on important international leaders make a mockery of the international legal system.
''The elected president of Haiti was driven from office, and the spiritual leader of Hamas, along with 10 civilian bystanders, was executed,'' he told IPS.
That can raise many questions, he added. ''Were these changes good for the people affected? What will be their likely effects? What political projects are they a part of? And what should various groups do in response?''
All of these, Lance argued, are very serious questions, as both cases create serious potential for an upsurge of violence, among other dire consequences.
But there is also a question of legality, Lance said. ''What was the role of the United States in the ouster of (Haitian President Jean-Bertrand) Aristide? What was the legal justification for any U.S. role, or for a U.S. failure to defend his elected government?''
''And what could be the legal justification for executing a disabled cleric without trial? Again, what is the U.S. responsibility in this Israeli action, given that the United States arms and supports Israel?'' he asked.
Such actions are ”the source of much international cynicism regarding the role of the United Nations in upholding international law'', he added.
Iraq was militarily defeated, crushed with sanctions, and invaded, all on the grounds that it violated international law, said Lance.
''At the same time, the world sees the United States and its favored allies acting with utter disregard for the rule of law and facing no meaningful U.N. challenge whatsoever.”
''Such a situation is rightly seen by most of the world to make a mockery of the ideals of a legal system'', he added.
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