United States Ambassador to the United Nations John D. Negroponte (L)
confers with British Ambassador to the U.N. Jeremy Greenstock prior to
a U.N. Security Council meeting on the crisis in the Middle East at U.N.
headquarters in New York, March 12, 2002. Annan called on Isreal to end
their "illegal occupation" of the Palestinian territory and for an end
to violence in the region by both sides in the conflict. REUTERS/Mike Segar
In an emotional plea delivered at a public meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Annan said the Middle East death toll had soared to appalling levels and urged leaders on both sides to "lead your peoples away from disaster."
In his toughest message to date to Israel, he said, "You must end the illegal occupation" of lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Aides said it was the first time Annan had branded the occupations as illegal.
And he appealed to Israeli defense forces to stop "the bombing of civilian areas, the assassinations, the unnecessary use of lethal force, the demolitions and the daily humiliation of ordinary Palestinians."
"Such actions gravely erode Israel's standing in the international community and further fuel the fires of hatred, despair and extremism among Palestinians," Annan said.
He also slammed the Palestinians, saying they "have played their full part in the escalating cycle of violence, counter-violence and revenge," and calling on them to stop all acts of terror.
He was "particularly disturbed" by the rise in Palestinian suicide bombings deliberately targeting civilians, he said, calling such attacks "morally repugnant."
But the Palestinian U.N. representative, Nasser al-Kidwa, quickly praised Annan's statement as "the strongest, the clearest position the secretary-general has come up with" on the Middle East since the beginning of a Palestinian uprising in September 1999 that the United Nations says has claimed some 1,550 lives.
The Palestinians will ask the Security Council to adopt a resolution putting more pressure on Israel, although he understood some of the council's 15 member-nations preferred to adopt a weaker nonbinding statement on the Middle East situation, he said.
"We prefer a more formal action by the Security Council, but of course we will be looking at everything which might be presented to us by any member of the council," al-Kidwa told reporters.
The United States, Israel's closest ally, has in the past used its veto power -- or the threat of a veto -- to block council action on Palestinian-backed resolutions, saying peace efforts must come from the two sides.
Washington has announced plans to send its Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni back to the region later this week to press for a cease-fire, and Annan urged both sides to work closely with Zinni toward a resumption of the peace process.
Israeli U.N. Ambassador Yehuda Lancry played down the significance of Annan's demand that Israel withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories, saying Israel had already agreed to do so in principle.
"In September 1993 we entered a process in order to negotiate the end of the situation as it is with the Palestinians. Even Prime Minister (Ariel) Sharon envisioned the establishment of a Palestinian state," he told reporters.
"That is an equivalent to an end of the current negotiations, on an agreed basis. Of course, we have to negotiate this, so it is not a new development," Lancry said.
He said Israeli defense forces were "compelled" to follow their current strategy by a relentless "Palestinian terrorist campaign" and said Palestinian suicide bombings were often more deadly and did more damage than the Israeli army.
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