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U.S. Vetoes Bid to Stop Israeli Fence

U.N. Ambassador Negroponte calls a resolution by Syria 'unbalanced' because it does not address Palestinian terrorism.

October 15, 2003|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — Saying it was "unbalanced" and did not further the Middle East peace process, the United States on Tuesday vetoed a Syrian-backed resolution seeking to stop Israel from extending a security barrier deep into the West Bank.

"The resolution put forward today was unbalanced and did not condemn terrorism in explicit terms," U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said after rejecting the measure late Tuesday night. "This resolution failed to address both sides of the larger security context of the Middle East, including the devastating attacks that the Israelis have had to endure over the past three years. The resolution focused on the fence does not further the goals of peace in the region."

Britain, Germany, Bulgaria and Cameroon abstained.

The Syrian and Palestinian envoys rejected a U.S. compromise proposal that denounced the main groups that have taken responsibility for suicide bombings and condemned a recent attack in the Israeli city of Haifa.

Negroponte said the points were standard elements that any resolution on the conflict must contain to demonstrate a sense of balance and to win U.S. backing.

Tuesday's resolution was the fourth Negroponte has vetoed since his posting began in September 2001; he has voted for or abstained on five other resolutions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Syrian diplomats said they would bring the resolution to the 191-member General Assembly, as they did with a resolution the U.S. rejected as unbalanced last month that sought protection for Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. The General Assembly has historically sympathized with the Palestinians on Middle East issues.

Negroponte, the U.N. Security Council president for October, presided over a six-hour public debate on whether the barrier was illegal and should be dismantled. More than 40 diplomats denounced Israel's plans to extend the barrier, a series of chain-link fences, concrete blocks topped with razor wire and trenches that is already 90 miles long.

Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman said the barrier was necessary to keep suicide bombers out of Israeli territory. Israel, with nearly 6,000 Israelis injured and 870 killed since September 2000, has very few options for protecting its citizens, he told the council.

The fence is a nonviolent way for Israel to protect itself and will ultimately reduce Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints in Palestinian areas, he said.

"Many Palestinians who oppose the fence simply want to continue killing Israelis. The Israelis building the fence simply want to live," Gillerman said.

Palestinians regard the fence's construction as an illegal land grab, since it deviates from the 1949 Green Line border between the Palestinian and Israeli territories and cuts into the West Bank to enclose Jewish settlements.

Palestinian envoy Nasser Kidwa told the Security Council on Tuesday that the fence separated families and disrupted Palestinians' livelihoods. If Israel's concern was purely about security, he said, it should build the barrier along the 1967 border with the West Bank.

"True, this would be a bad thing in terms of coexistence between the two sides, but no one would say it was illegal," Kidwa said.

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