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UN condemns Israel over Jenin, bombing spurs abstentions

By Reuters
5/7/02
 

The UN General Assembly voted on Tuesday to condemn
Israel's six-week-old West Bank offensive, especially
in Jenin, but 54 countries were jolted into abstaining
after a suicide bombing killed at least 15 people in
Rishon Letzion.

The timing of the vote so soon after the bombing
prompted Israel's U.N. mission to dismiss as "a farce"
the resolution, which Arab nations drafted.

"The fact that the General Assembly, just hours after
a horrifying Palestinian terror attack that left
Israelis dead, adopted a resolution that does not
condemn the Palestinian terrorism is most
unfortunate," mission spokesman Ariel Milo told
Reuters.

Sponsored by Sudan on behalf of the Arab group of UN
member-nations, the resolution "condemns the attacks
committed by the Israeli occupying forces against the
Palestinian people in several Palestinian cities,
particularly in the Jenin refugee camp."

It also condemned Israel's refusal to cooperate with
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's fact-finding mission
to Jenin and asked Annan to prepare a report on what
happened there based on "available resources and
information."

The resolution passed 74 to 4 with 54 abstentions. The
United States, Israel, the Marshall Islands and
Micronesia voted "no," while almost every European
nation was among the abstentions.

The vote came after the Security Council last week
deadlocked over an Arab-drafted resolution that would
have denounced Israel for blocking a UN fact-finding
mission to Jenin. Israel has denied Palestinian
charges a massacre took place there.

Palestinian UN observer Nasser al-Kidwa said he was
not concerned by Tuesday's high number of abstentions.
"It doesn't matter," he told Reuters. "It came down to
a matter of principle, and we prevailed."

The Palestinians accuse the IDF of using excessive
force and violating international humanitarian and
human rights law during the West Bank operation
launched March 29.

Israel says 56 Palestinians lost their lives in Jenin,
the vast majority of them armed gunmen. It said it
launched the West Bank offensive to root out a
"terrorist network" using the area to stage suicide
bombings.

The text of Tuesday's resolution was softened in
stages to win broader support. Earlier drafts had
referred to the Israeli offensive as "war crimes,"
then as "atrocities," and afterward as "brutal
assaults."

Following word of the bombing, European Union members
sought new language condemning suicide attacks, but
Arab envoys turned them down.

The General Assembly is much bigger than the 15-nation
Security Council, but its resolutions carry less
weight. The threshold for action is also lower in the
assembly, where resolutions are adopted by a majority
vote while in the council five members -- including
the United States, Israel's closest ally -- have veto
power.

Annan named a team to look into Jenin on April 19,
after Israel welcomed a mission and said it had
nothing to hide. But he disbanded it after Israel
raised a series of objections to its makeup and ground
rules.

Prior to the vote, Israeli Ambassador Yehuda Lancry
said approving the resolution would be "an offense to
the memory of Israeli victims of Palestinian
terrorism" including Tuesday's bombing.

But Ambassador Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo of South
Africa,representing nonaligned nations, argued as the
debate began, that approving the text was a "stand
against Israel's defiance of international
humanitarian law and human rights."

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte criticized the draft
as unbalanced and aimed at isolating Israel.