The United States Thursday reiterated its sorrow over the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Israeli artillery fire in Gaza. But the State Department ruled U.S. support for what it said is a one-sided draft resolution condemning Israel presented by Arab states in the U.N. Security Council.
The Bush administration has gone to great lengths to stress its concern about the Gaza violence and casualties, especially the Israeli artillery fire in Beit Hanoun Wednesday that killed 18 members of a Palestinian family.
However officials here are making clear that the United States will not support what they describe as a one-sided draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council condemning Israel.
They say the only real way to escape the cycle of violence is a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue that stalled with the election of a Hamas-led Palestinian government last January.
Only hours after the incident in Gaza Wednesday, President Bush said in a written statement he was deeply saddened by the deaths and injuries and extended U.S. condolences.
Mr. Bush also urged a speedy Israeli investigation of what he called a tragic incident and appropriate steps to avoid any repetition, and he urged all parties to act with care and restraint.
Briefing reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice followed-up the statement with a condolence telephone call to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and a call to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose government has apologized for what it said was errant artillery fire.
The Gaza incident triggered expressions of outrage in the Arab world and the convening Thursday of a special session of the Security Council, where Arab states presented the resolution condemning Israel and calling for a U.N. observer force along the Israeli-Gaza border.
But U.S. and other diplomats at the U.N. criticized the draft, noting it makes no mention of the Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza into Israel that triggered the Israeli offensive.
Spokesman McCormack said the United States understands the motives behind the measure but will not support it:
"The emotion surrounding this event in the Palestinian areas is being reflected in some quarters of the Security Council," said Sean McCormack. "We understand that. That said we don't think that any sort of one-sided resolutions are really the most productive way to address this issue. Certainly it's an issue that we understand that people want to talk about in the Security Council, although the Security Council is not traditionally the forum where Israeli-Palestinian issues are resolved."
In the Security Council debate, Palestinian U.N. observer Riyad Mansour brushed aside Israeli expressions of regret over the Beit Hanoun deaths.
He said the actions of Israeli forces were state terrorism and war crimes that continue with impunity, and he said Security Council action was needed to preserve the authority of the world body:
"The time has come for urgent action on the part of the Security Council," said Riyad Mansour. "Failure to act this time will seriously damage the credibility of the Security Council. How many Palestinians will have to be killed before the Security Council acts? How many Palestinian families will suffer complete annihilation by the occupying power? Mr. President, enough is enough, and the Security Council cannot continue to remain silent and inactive when it comes to the lives of the Palestinian people."
Spokesman McCormack said the way to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace is through a political horizon but said that is not possible now because the Hamas-led Palestinian government does not accept international terms for dialogue with Israel.
Laid down in January by the international Middle East Quartet - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - those terms include recognition of Israel's right to exist, a renunciation of violence, and an acceptance of previous Palestinian agreements with Israel.