US and Arab states clash at UN Security Council

America and Arab states will lock horns again today in the UN Security Council as Libya seeks an immediate ceasefire and a formal condemnation of the escalation of violence in Gaza.

The 15-member council agreed yesterday on the terms of a statement read to the press, after a five-hour emergency session. But the US delegation managed to tone down the language and it failed to match the unusually strong denunciation issued by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who condemned the "disproportionate and excessive use of force" by Israel "that has killed and injured so many civilians, including children". He also condemned Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli towns as "acts of terrorism" and called for an end to the attacks by both sides.

Libya has now circulated a draft resolution which is due to be discussed by the council members today and would constitute their first formal response if adopted. But in a closed session, some delegations, including Britain's, rejected the text for failing to point out that Israeli military attacks were launched in response to militants firing missiles. The US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, said: "It's not a balanced resolution, certainly."

Diplomats said yesterday that Libya, representing the Palestinians and Arab countries on the council, may retain its original draft to attract a US veto at a public meeting of the council as the US has frequently used its veto to block resolutions condemning Israel.

"We don't know yet what the Libyans want to achieve," said one Security Council diplomat. "It could take a fair bit of negotiating."

The draft resolution calls for "an immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including military attacks and the firing of rockets, and calls upon all parties to respect the ceasefire".

The US and Libyan delegations clashed during the lengthy discussions on Saturday night which produced the press statement read by the Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin . Libya objected to US support for describing the Palestinian attacks as "acts of terrorism", in line with Mr Ban's statement to the council. The US, meanwhile, rejected a reference to the council's concern about the desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza, caused by the "excessive use of force." In the end, the press summary expressed appreciation for Mr Ban's participation and simply "takes note of his statement".

The Palestinian permanent observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said Israel's actions in Gaza amounted to "war crimes", an accusation rejected by the Israeli deputy ambassador, Daniel Carmon.

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