The U.N. Security Council opened a debate on Israeli military operations in the occupied territories, hours after Monday's suicide attack in Tel Aviv.
Arab countries asked for the open Council debate after the United States blocked adoption of a statement last week that would have called on Israel to refrain from excessive use of force that endangers Palestinian civilians.
More than a dozen countries had lined up to criticize Israeli military actions, including Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Algeria, Indonesia, Egypt, Cuba and Venezuela.
But the session was overshadowed by news that a bomber with the militant group Islamic Jihad detonated explosives at a fast food stand in Tel Aviv. Officials of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority said the suicide bombing was a legitimate response to Israeli aggression.
Palestinian Representative Riyad Mansour condemned the attack and noted that President Mahmoud Abbas also issued a condemnation. But he told the meeting that the recent intensification of Israel's military campaign in the Gaza Strip had resulted in the deaths of 21 Palestinians, including two children. He called it "destruction for the sake of destruction".
"Israel, the occupying power, has been relentless in its grave breaches of international law, including the willful killing and injury of civilians and the practice of extrajudicial executions. The occupying power has continued, and is thus committing these crimes against the Palestinian people with complete impunity and on a repeated basis," he said.
Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman took the floor with a defense of the military campaign in the occupied territories. He said Israeli actions were necessary, though insufficient to prevent terror attacks. "Deeds of murder and terror, homicide bombings and brutal killings, with over 80 daily alerts of terrorism in Israel, of which 16 are direct specific threats. We urge the international community and the Security Council to take swift actions to try and prevent the next murder, which is unfortunately already on its way," he said.
Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said the United States regrets the loss of life as a result of Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip. But he noted that the responsibility for preventing terrorist attacks rests with the Palestinian Authority, and cautioned the United Nations not to take sides in the dispute. "The United Nations must play an even-handed role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, encouraging both parties to take the necessary steps to make progress along the road map. The U.N. cannot be seen to favor one side over the other," he said.
In a related development, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he is planning to convene a meeting of the Middle East diplomatic quartet in New York May 9. The quartet includes the United States, Russia, the European Union and the U.N. Security Council
Mr. Annan said he is likely to invite countries in the region to participate in the meeting to, in his words, "think through the issues with us".
The secretary-general condemned the latest suicide attack in Tel Aviv, and urged the Palestinian authority to do the same.