The chief Palestinian representative at the United Nations has described the Israeli attack on Gaza City this week as a war crime and demanded immediate action by the international community. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency session late Wednesday at the request of Arab diplomats.

Palestinian diplomat Nasser al-Kidwa said Palestinians want to continue talks leading to a settlement with Israel. But it is difficult, he added, because of the failure of the Security Council to deal decisively with Israel. "The growing Israeli violations and crimes are suffocating and indeed killing any potential for peace between the two sides," he said. "This tragic situation is only being further exacerbated as the international community continues to stand idly by."

Israel's representative expressed profound regret that the air raid that killed a leading member of the Islamic militant group Hamas resulted in what he called "collateral damage," the death of more than a dozen civilians, with scores more injured. But deputy ambassador Aaron Jacob also accused Hamas and other such groups of using civilians as a "human shield" and blamed the Palestinian leadership for not doing anything about it. "What is needed is for the Palestinian Authority to act to relieve Israel of the burden of acting against terrorists hiding out in Palestinian territory," he said. "Israel still believes there can be no military solution to the conflict."

The Security Council took no immediate action on a resolution circulated by Arab diplomats, which would have criticized the Israeli raid and demanded an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian towns.

The United States agreed to the U.N. debate, though reluctantly, indicating it would not support a resolution that might interfere with what a State Department spokesman called the broader goal of peace.

The United States has criticized the Israeli raid as "heavy-handed." But the American ambassador in the Security Council also condemned Palestinian militant groups for conducting a campaign of terror against Israel.