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UN Condemns Israeli Killing of Palestinians in Gaza - 2004-05-20

The U.N. Security Council has adopted a resolution condemning the killing of Palestinian civilians at the Rafah refugee camp. The United States -- which has vetoed similar measures in the past -- abstained. The Arab-sponsored measure was approved by a 14-to-0 margin. The United States was the only country not joining the majority.

The Security Council resolution expresses grave concern at the large-scale demolition of homes in the refugee camp, and at the continued deterioration of the situation in territories occupied by Israel since 1967. But it is a toned down version of earlier drafts submitted by its chief sponsor, Algeria, which currently holds the Arab seat on the Council.

The vote came after intense negotiations over two days, involving the Algerian, Palestinian and U.S. ambassadors. It marked the first time since September 2002 that the United States has abstained on a Security Council vote against Israel.

In explaining his vote, Deputy U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham said the decision to abstain was motivated by Washington's concern about the killings in Rafah. "While we believe that Israel has the right to act to defend itself and its citizens, we do not see that its operations in Gaza in the last few days serve the purposes of peace and security," he said. "They have worsened the humanitarian situation and resulted in confrontations between Israeli forces and Palestinians, and have not, we believe, enhanced Israel's security."

In his speech to the Security Council, Palestinian U.N. representative Nasser Al-Kidwa called the Rafah killings "state terrorism." Afterward, he expressed hope the resolution would help in finding a way out of the violence. "The most important thing is that Security Council was finally able to pass an important resolution," he said. "Of course we would have hoped for stronger language, but I think the resolution is enough to provide suitable basis to get out of the current tragic situation."

Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman told the Security Council his country regrets the killing of civilians in Rafah. But he ridiculed the resolution, describing it as a blemish on those who presented it. He rejected the suggestion that the resolution might serve the cause of peace.

"We feel that the resolution of this kind is a resolution that actually emboldens terrorism rather than those who are fighting terrorism," said Mr. Gillerman. "We also feel that the litany of suffering albeit very biasedly by the Palestinian observer must be remembered as a litany of suffering brought on to us, onto the region, and especially onto the Palestinian people by their own corrupt and evil leadership."

The resolution was put forward after an international outcry against the demolition of homes and killings in the Rafah camp. Secretary General Kofi Annan this week appealed for an end to the demolitions, calling them a violation of international humanitarian law.