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Annan Calls for Cease-Fire Monitors

Diplomacy: Proposal seeks an international force backed by but operating independently of the U.N. in the Palestinian territories.


UNITED NATIONS — In a reflection of deepening concern here about the specter of a widening Middle East war, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the Security Council on Friday to authorize an international force to oversee a cease-fire in the Palestinian territories.

"The situation is so dangerous and the humanitarian and human rights situation so appalling," Annan said from the U.N. offices in Geneva, that outside military intervention "can no longer be deferred."

A few hours later, Annan's top political deputy in New York briefed the Security Council on the proposal in a closed-door session. U.N. officials said Annan envisioned a well-armed multinational force endorsed by but operating independently of the U.N., as in Afghanistan, with one nation volunteering to organize and command the troops.

"I am talking about a force that will help create a secure environment to allow for assistance, to allow us to be able to end the killing and give us time for negotiations and diplomacy," the secretary-general said.

According to people who attended Friday's session, the proposal was received with surprise and caution by the Security Council, which has been deliberating renewed requests from Arab nations for a U.N. monitoring mission in the Middle East--an idea staunchly resisted by Israel.

Annan, normally careful and even deferential in his dealings with the council concerning the region, has been under intense and growing pressure to speak out within the U.N., senior officials here said, as Israeli troops have occupied and in some cases destroyed parts of U.N. refugee settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

American diplomats here, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they needed more details of Annan's proposal but wanted Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's mission in the region to remain the immediate Mideast diplomatic focus.

Yet even if Powell secured a truce, recent history suggests that the Israelis and Palestinians on their own would be unable or unwilling to maintain it, Annan said.

"I think that when one considers the situation and the attitude of the parties--the enmity and distrust are so deep--that even when you come up with agreements, cease-fire and all that, you need a referee, a third party," he said.

Powell said after meetings with Arab leaders on his way to Jerusalem this week that Washington would be willing to provide monitors to supervise a cease-fire, but Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other administration officials have opposed deployment of U.S. troops in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization might be more willing to undertake such a deployment. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien has said that his nation would consider contributing troops, and European Union leaders also have voiced tentative support for the introduction of foreign troops if a cease-fire can be negotiated.

Evoking memories of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where thousands of unarmed civilians died in the 1990s before international forces intervened, Annan's chief spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said the secretary-general "felt that something new--something bold--had to be considered by the Security Council" before the Mideast explodes into wider war.

"It's a reaction to the carnage that is taking place--that we cannot remain neutral as people are being killed on both sides from one day to the next," Eckhard told reporters here.

Annan issued his call for the international force shortly before a suicide bombing Friday in Jerusalem. In a statement issued after the blast, he expressed his "utter condemnation of such attacks against Israeli civilians as morally repugnant."

There was concern among diplomats here that the attack could sabotage Powell's cease-fire mission and increase pressure on the U.N. from the Arab world and elsewhere to intervene more forcefully in the conflict. Annan was expected to return to New York over the weekend to further discuss the peacekeeping proposal with diplomats here.

Before Friday's bombing, U.N. officials had been focusing largely on what they termed the "humanitarian emergency" in West Bank cities and refugee camps occupied or recently occupied by Israeli troops.

At a U.N. refugee camp in Jenin, the scene of some of the bloodiest recent fighting between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militias, U.N. relief officials were again barred from entering Friday, Eckhard reported.

Palestinian representatives to the U.N. are demanding an official U.N. inquiry into this week's Israeli operation in Jenin, which the Israeli army estimated left hundreds of Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers dead.

Asma Jahangir, a U.N. human rights officer with jurisdiction over "extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions," called Friday for an investigation of allegations that Israeli forces killed unarmed civilians in the Jenin camp.

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