UN Assembly Pressures Israel on Mideast Conflict
      Reuters
      Tue December 3, 2002 04:40 PM ET

 
      By Irwin Arieff
      UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. General Assembly approved by lopsided margins on Tuesday a string of resolutions aimed at promoting Palestinian rights and pressuring Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories.

      In what has become an annual exercise in the 191-nation assembly, just a handful of nations -- led by Israel and its closest ally the United States -- voted against the six resolutions although more than 50 countries abstained on three of the texts.

      But one of the resolutions -- expressing "grave concern" over Middle East violence and urging Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territory it has occupied since the 1967 Middle East War -- passed 160-4, with just three abstentions.

      That text also expressed "grave concern" over the growing suffering and casualties on both sides of the conflict and stressed the need for "a commitment to the vision" of separate Israeli and Palestinian states existing side by side in peace as set out by President Bush in a June speech.

      The Marshall Islands and Micronesia joined Israel and Washington in voting "No" on all six resolutions.

      Costa Rica and Nauru joined those four in voting against one resolution each.

      At least 1,693 Palestinians and 668 Israelis have been killed since a Palestinian revolt that broke out in September 2000, sparked by the stalled Middle East peace process.

      "BALANCED AND PRAGMATIC APPROACH"

      U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte told the assembly Washington would welcome resolutions reflecting "a balanced and pragmatic approach" to the conflict.

      "Unfortunately, it appears that we will be considering texts that put this body in the position of attempting to prejudge the settlement of the question of Jerusalem and other final status issues," Negroponte said.

      "To achieve a lasting peace, these issues must be decided through negotiations between the parties, consistent with their past agreements and consistent with relevant Security Council resolutions," he said.

      The General Assembly controls the budget and general programming of the United Nations. While its decisions on political issues express the will of the international community, they are not binding, like those of the 15-nation Security Council.

      The votes, capping three days of debate on the Middle East and the Palestinian question, fell during a time of surging violence between Israelis and Palestinians despite U.S. calls for calm in the region as it seeks Arab support for a possible war on Iraq.

      Israeli soldiers on Tuesday shot dead a 95-year-old Palestinian woman who was taking a taxi home after a medical check-up in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian witnesses and medics said.

      Israeli military sources said soldiers shot at the tires of a Palestinian vehicle traveling on a prohibited road north of Ramallah after the driver ignored orders to halt.

      Another of the resolutions adopted on Tuesday dismissed as "null and void" Israeli attempts to impose laws on Jerusalem -- a holy city for Muslims and Christians as well as Jews.

      Yet another demanded Israel's withdrawal from the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the 1967 war.

      Others praised the work of the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the U.N. Division for Palestinian Rights, and the U.N. Department of Public Information.