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Security Council Expresses Shock at Israeli Attack on UN Post

The U.N. Security Council has expressed shock and distress at Israel's bombing of a U.N. post in Lebanon that killed four military observers. But a statement by the Council stops short of condemning the attack, as many members had wanted. Debate over the statement has reopened old wounds, threatening Council harmony on other pressing issues.

Nearly 48 hours after an Israeli bomb killed four members of a U.N. observer mission, the Security Council Thursday adopted a brief statement expressing shock and offering condolences to families of the victims.

But the final draft approved after more than a day of negotiations was far weaker than what China had originally proposed. Council diplomats said the United States had resisted language in earlier drafts that would have condemned the Israeli attack, called for a joint Israeli/U.N. investigation, and expressed grave concern at the escalation of hostilities in Lebanon.

One of the four observers killed in the attack was Chinese, and China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya was clearly upset at the watered-down text. In a pointed reference to the United States, he said Council members must respect each other, and suggested the Council's failure to condemn the killings could have a negative impact on other issues before the Council. "So I think the frustration is there, and I think this frustration definitely will affect this working relations somewhat, somewhere," he said.

The Chinese envoy suggested that the first casualty of the changed atmosphere would be a U.S.-backed resolution demanding that Iran halt its uranium enrichment program. "The working relations on this particular issue will have its impact on the working relationship on other issues. Secondly I have to say that on the Iran issue, not all members share same view. Because for China, we believe that the Iranian nuclear issue belongs mainly with the IAEA. (International Atomic Energy Agency)," he said.

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman expressed his government's regret at the killings. He said he was satisfied with what he called the 'fair and balanced' tone of the statement. At the same time, the Israeli envoy had harsh words for Secretary-General Kofi Annan for initially suggesting that the attack on the U.N. observer post may have been deliberate. "I'm happy that the secretary-general yesterday changed his tone to a certain extent, because I do think the initial insinuation was unworthy of such a seasoned and experienced diplomat and was hasty and irresponsible," he said.

Gillerman rejected a call by Secretary-General Annan for a joint U.N./Israeli investigation into the fatal attack. "We would of course welcome input from the United Nations, and will take it into account. We don't feel that we need anybody to carry out an investigation with us," he said.

Gillerman pledged that Israel would do everything possible to protect members of the U.N. mission known as UNIFIL but urged the Council to withdraw the observer force for its own safety.

UNIFIL was established 28 years ago to monitor the Israel-Lebanon border. A senior U.N. peacekeeping official told the Security Council Wednesday several unarmed UNIFIL posts have come under fire, with some taking direct hits since Israel's current offensive in Lebanon began.