Dozens of countries have heaped condemnation on Israel at the U.N. Security Council for the killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. But the Israeli representative lashed back, accusing the Council of hypocrisy, and describing Sheik Yassin as the godfather of terrorism.
A procession of delegates - most from Islamic countries, but also from the European Union, Japan and four of the five permanent Security Council members - joined in condemning the extrajudicial killing. The words 'heinous' and 'despicable' were heard over and over.
Only the United States refrained from condemnation, noting that Sheikh Yassin had preached hatred, and glorified suicide bombings. But Ambassador John Negroponte acknowledged that the killing had escalated tensions and set back peacemaking efforts.
Palestinian Ambassador Nasser al-Kidwa described Israel as an outlaw state that routinely violates provisions of the U.N. charter and international law. After the meeting, he said the killing of Sheikh Yassin has raised tensions to an unprecedented level. "A big line has been crossed," he says. "It was an insane crime, that has very dangerous indication, and probably will have very dangerous consequences."
Irish Ambassador Richard Ryan, representing the European Union, condemned the assassination. At the same time, however, he said Europe recognizes Israel's right to defend itself.
But in the face of condemnation, Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman was defiantly unrepentant. He described the meeting to condemn Israel as outrageous. "The Council convenes. Why? Not to condemn terrorism, not to honor the memory of hundred murdered by it, but to come to the defense of one of its prime perpetrators, a godfather of terrorism," he said. "This is not a message of which the Council can be proud. Frankly, it is an outrage."
Ambassador Gillerman described Sheikh Yassin as the arch-terrorist, and ridiculed the idea that he was a spiritual leader. "To characterize him as a spiritual leader is to attempt to characterize Osama bin Laden as a Mother Teresa," he said. "Underneath his supposed clerical garb, Sheikh Yassin is a true pioneer in the ruthless murder of innocents."
At the end of the nearly four-hour session, the Security Council adjourned without taking any action. Council member Algeria, which had tried to engineer a presidential statement, criticized the United States for blocking the measure.
A draft resolution condemning Israel is being circulated, but diplomats acknowledge that given U.S. opposition, the document stands no chance of passage.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan condemned Sheikh Yassin's assassination in a separate statement Monday. He called it an extrajudicial killing and a violation of international law.