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U.N. Security Council debates Gaza violence

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Arab countries called an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to debate the violence in Gaza, demanding in a draft resolution an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants.

The evening session adjourned without a vote being called and diplomats said negotiations would be held in coming days over the draft, which Western delegates described as unbalanced and focusing almost entirely on Israel's actions.

The resolution, presented by Libya, called for "an immediate ceasefire and for its full respect by both sides." It also demanded protection for Palestinian civilians, opening border crossings into Gaza and "restoration of calm in full."

It denounced "the excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by Israel" but its only mention of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel was a vague reference to "the deterioration of the situation in southern Israel."

"It's going to need a lot of work," one Western diplomat said of the resolution.

The council has already issued a statement, which lacks the weight of a resolution, calling for a halt to the violence in Gaza, but it has been ignored. Nearly 400 Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed so far.

The United States says any ceasefire must be durable and binding on the Hamas Islamists who control Gaza, as well as on Israel. The Jewish state, which began air strikes on Gaza on Saturday to try to stamp out the Palestinian rocket fire, has rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire.

Following a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, an Arab ministerial delegation is expected to arrive in New York early next week to press their case on Gaza at the United Nations, diplomats said.

They suggested a vote would not take place before then.


British Ambassador John Sawers told reporters the draft "needs to reflect the responsibilities of all the parties." But he said a balanced resolution "will have a good chance of securing support across the Security Council."

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told the council Washington wanted to see "an immediate ceasefire that is sustainable and implemented by all."

But both he and Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said the best approach was to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians to end the fighting, then enshrine it in a resolution rather than the council trying to impose a ceasefire.

In the council debate, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, echoed by European speakers, faulted both sides for what he called the "terrifying" conditions in Gaza. He attacked the "irresponsibility" of the rocket attacks and the "disproportionality" of Israel's response.

Arab and Muslim speakers laid the blame on Israel and made little reference to the rockets.

In a harshly worded speech, Libyan Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi said Israel's attacks and restrictions on aid convoys into Gaza "in their own way represent a crime of genocide."

He urged fellow envoys to adopt the resolution "so that we do not add another Srebrenica (in Bosnia) or Rwanda to the history of this council" -- a reference to massacres in the 1990s that the United Nations failed to prevent.

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