UN condemns excessive use of force against protesters

International Reaction
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The Independent Online

Israel was facing growing diplomatic isolation last night as massive demonstrations continued in the Arab world, and its main ally, the US, allowed passage of a United Nations resolution condemning it for using excessive force against the Palestinians in the clashes in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel was facing growing diplomatic isolation last night as massive demonstrations continued in the Arab world, and its main ally, the US, allowed passage of a United Nations resolution condemning it for using excessive force against the Palestinians in the clashes in the West Bank and Gaza.

After Jordan, Egypt and Sudan, Morocco yesterday became the latest Arab country to witness massive anti-Israeli protests when an estimated half million people marched through the capital Rabat, chanting slogans against Israel and the US, as well as calling for a jihad, or holy war, to liberate Jerusalem.

The demonstration was all the more striking since Morocco has traditionally been in the moderate Arab camp, and has maintained steady, if discreet, ties with Israel.

This time, however, the crowds were led not only by the Socialist Prime Minister Abderrahmane El Youssoufi but by Abraham Serfaty, the leading former dissident against the regime, and who is himself Jewish.

Jordan, which has had full diplomatic relations with Israel since 1994, underlined its displeasure by postponing the departure of its new ambassador to Tel Aviv. But King Abdullah's government has rejected demands by parliament to expel Israel's envoy to Jordan and close down the Israeli embassy in Amman.

In the West, officials were expressing open fear that the deteriorating situation in the region may spin totally out of control, following the seizure by Hizbollah guerrillas of three Israeli soldiers along the border with Lebanon, raising the spectre of possible reprisal attacks by Israel.

In London, Robin Cook voiced the same worry that the wider peace process risked destruction.

He called for flexibility from both sides: "Neither are going to win through violence, confrontation and conflict," the Foreign Secretary said, "but both could win immensely if they go back to the negotiating table."

But Mr Cook left scant doubt of his view that Israel had gone too far in its suppression of the demonstrations, which have left more than 80 people dead, the vast majority of them Palestinians.

Britain, he said, had brokered the wording of the Security Council resolution which condemned "excessive use of force against the Palestinians". Although in deference to Washington neither Israel nor its opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, whose visit to holy Islamic shrines in Jerusalem detonated the violence, were named directly.

As a result the US abstained, permitting the resolution to go through. However, Richard Holbrooke, the US Ambassador to the UN, described the resolution as "not very good, to put it mildly".

Mr Holbrooke indicated he had been instructed personally by President Bill Clinton to abstain, to avoid the risk - indeed the near certainty - that a US veto in defence of Israel might have destroyed the last vestiges of Arab trust in Washington's ability to act as impartial mediator in the crisis.

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