U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has issued his toughest statement to date on the escalating violence in the Middle East -- urging Palestinians to halt what he called acts of "terror" and Israel to end what he termed its "illegal" occupation of Palestinian territories.
Stating that he felt he must speak directly to the people and the leadership of both sides of the conflict, Mr. Annan denounced the actions of both Palestinian militants and the Israeli authority. Mr. Annan called for an immediate end to Palestinian acts of terror and suicide bombings, calling the targeting of innocent civilians "morally repugnant."
Warning that the situation in the Middle East was nearing what he called "the abyss," the Secretary General urged Israel to stop using what he called excessive force and end its occupation of Palestinian territories. "You must end the illegal occupation. More urgently, you must stop the bombing of civilian areas, the assassinations, the unnecessary use of lethal force, the demolitions, and the daily humiliations of ordinary Palestinians. Such actions gravely erode Israel's standing in the international community, and further fan the flames of hatred, despair, and extremism among the Palestinians," Mr. Annan said.
Mr. Annan's spokesman said he believed it was the first time the Secretary General had used the word "illegal" to describe the Israeli occupation.
In his remarks, Mr. Annan also welcomed the recent U.S. decision to send retired General Anthony Zinni back to the region for another attempt to get the two sides to accept a cease fire.
Israel's U.N. ambassador Yehuda Lancry responded to Mr. Annan's statement by saying he was openly dissatisfied with the tone of the comments, as well as with the posture the U.N. consultations on the crisis. "Every Security Council resolution that does not speak openly about Palestinian terrorism, that confines itself to some alternative wordings like "violence", like "destruction aimed at the Israeli side", is not a balanced resolution, and it will lead only to the biased position of the Security Council," Yehuda Lancry said.
The Security Council has been meeting in closed door consultations in an effort to discuss the conflict and a proposed resolution aimed at easing the conflit.