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U.N. May Vote to Condemn Israeli Actions

Diplomacy: General Assembly mulls harsher resolution. Annan warns against reigniting tensions.


UNITED NATIONS — Pushing past the objections of the United States, the General Assembly convened an emergency session Wednesday to consider a second, harsher resolution condemning Israel for recent "acts of violence" against Palestinian civilians.

U.S. and Israeli diplomats have tried to block the session, saying it flouts the spirit of the truce reached at this week's Israeli-Palestinian summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik.

"We don't think this session is helpful to the cause of peace," U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said. "It undermines the peace process; it undermines the Sharm el Sheik agreement. We think it undermines the secretary-general's efforts."

The U.S. abstained from voting on an Oct. 7 Security Council resolution that deplored an "excessive use of force" without specifically naming Israel, and it pledged to veto any condemnations of Israel in the 15-member council. So the Palestinians and their supporters asked for an emergency session of the 189-member General Assembly, where the U.S. has no veto power.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked the parties to "weigh their words carefully" and to resist reigniting tensions.

"Silencing the guns [and] ending the violence is a real achievement," Annan said from Egypt. "But language can be violence too."

Annan will speak to the General Assembly on Friday about the summit, and the resolution's supporters agreed to delay the vote until after his address.

The resolution denouncing the resurgent violence in the Middle East is slightly stronger than the earlier version, which had been watered down to avoid a U.S. veto. It specifically cites Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit last month to the Temple Mount, the holy site in Jerusalem's Old City known to Muslims as Haram al Sharif, or the noble sanctuary, as a "provocative" act that led to renewed fighting and more than 100 deaths, nearly all of them Palestinian or Arab Israeli.

At the same time, a special session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights is meeting in Geneva to discuss a resolution accusing Israel of "crimes against humanity." It notes that a third of the people killed since Sharon's visit were children, lays out specific violations of U.N. conventions and calls for investigations by envoys from seven U.N. human rights departments.

Although the General Assembly resolution carries moral and diplomatic weight, its demands for investigations are nonbinding. The Geneva meeting, however, could set the stage for future war crimes trials.

The U.S. has in the past gone to great lengths to prevent Palestinian-Israeli confrontations at the United Nations. When the General Assembly invited Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to address the body in 1988, the U.S. government denied him a visa to enter the country, citing security reasons. The General Assembly packed up and moved to Geneva for the two-hour session.

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