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UN  Demands Israel Halt Threats to Expel or Kill  Arafat - 2003-09-19

The U.N. General Assembly, in a symbolic slap at the United States, has overhwelmingly passed a resolution condemning Israel's decision in principle to expel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The resolution was similar to one that was rejected last Tuesday by a U.S. veto in the Security Council.

The vote was 133 in favor of the resolution and four countries against, with 15 abstentions. The approval came after Arab sponsors of the measure approved amendments submitted by the European Union that were intended to make it more even handed. One phrase condemned Palestinian suicide bombers, as well as Israeli targeted killings of Palestinian militants.

Debate on the measure was largely a procession of speakers denouncing Israel. Palestinian envoy, Nasser al-Kidwa, led the verbal barrage.

"We are before a member state in the United Nations with a mad government that violates the resolutions day and night, in blatant contempt and direct challenge of the whole international community, but with the support and protection of the super power," he said.

Mr. al-Kidwa noted that the U.S. veto of a similar measure in the Security Council last Tuesday was the 26th veto by Washington of a Middle East resolution.

The only countries to vote against - along with the United States and Israel - were the Pacific island nations of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. U.S. ambassador, John Negroponte, called the overwhelming margin of the vote disheartening, and a blow to the peace process in the Middle East.

"This polarization undermines our collective diplomatic efforts to make some headway on these issues here, or with the parties on the ground," he said.

The General Assembly vote, while considered a stinging rebuke to the United States and Israel, is mostly symbolic. Such votes do not carry the same legal weight as a Security Council resolution, but they also cannot be vetoed.