U.S. vetoes UN resolution condemning Israel's Gaza incursion

By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff

Haaretz

Tamuz 18, 5766

The United States blocked a resolution Thursday that would have demanded Israel halt its military offensive in the Gaza Strip, the first United Nations Security Council veto in nearly two years.

The draft, sponsored by Qatar, accused Israel of a "disproportionate use of force" that endangered Palestinian civilians, and demanded Israel withdraw its troops from Gaza.

The U.S. was alone in voting against the resolution. Ten of the 15 Security Council nations voted in favor, and four abstained.

The draft had been reworked repeatedly to address concerns that it was too biased against Israel. Language was added calling for the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit and urging the Palestinians to stop firing rockets at Israel.

Nonetheless, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said it was still unacceptable because it had been overtaken by events in the region - including the abduction of two IDF soldiers by Hezbollah militants on Wednesday - and was "unbalanced."

"It placed demands on one side in the Middle East conflict but not the other," Bolton said. "This draft resolution would have exacerbated tensions in the region."

Israel launched the operation two weeks ago in response to a raid carried out by militants along the Gaza border, in which two soldiers were killed and Shalit was abducted.

The resolution called on Israel and the Palestinians to "take immediate steps to create the necessary condition for the resumption of negotiation and restarting the peace process." It urged all parties to help alleviate the "dire humanitarian situation" faced by Palestinians.

The draft, sponsored by Qatar on behalf of Arab nations, also demanded Israel release the Palestinian officials it has arrested.

The U.S. had campaigned hard in the last several days for other nations on the 15-member council to either vote against the resolution or abstain. But those efforts failed and it had to cast the veto to keep the draft from being adopted.

The U.S. has periodically used its veto to block resolutions critical of Israel. The last council veto, in October 2004, was cast when the U.S. blocked a resolution condemning another Israeli operation in Gaza.

Eight of the last nine vetoes in the council have been cast by the U.S. Of those, seven had to do with the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

IAF jets bomb PA foreign ministry building in Gaza
Earlier Thursday, an Israel Air Force airplane attacked the Palestinian Foreign Ministry in Gaza City, severely damaging the building, witnesses said.

The building partially collapsed and the bomb caused widespread destruction in the area. Palestinian security officials said no one was hurt in the night-time raid.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed it carried out an airstrike on the Foreign Ministry, saying it is "led by Hamas" and has been used for the "planning of terror attacks."

Palestinian Foreign Ministry spokesman Taher al-Nunu accused Israel of carrying out "organized terrorism that targets all the Palestinian people and aims to exterminate all government institutions, one after another, to prevent them from carrying out their duties."

Houses in the area were badly damaged by the force of the blast, and the third and fourth floor of the foreign ministry building were destroyed.

Since early Wednesday morning, 23 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since as the IDF expanded its operation in Gaza, entering the central Strip for the first time since it began its offensive there two weeks ago.

A mother, her five children, a senior Hamas official and 11 armed militants were among the dead.

The IAF targeted a group of people in the southern Gaza town of Deir al-Balah on Wednesday, killing five people and wounding six others, Palestinian officials said. The army said it had targeted an armed militia.

The IAF struck at the home of a Hamas activist in Gaza City before dawn Wednesday, killing seven people and wounding top Hamas commander Mohammed Deif, Palestinians said.

The seven dead were all members of the same family - two parents, including senior Gaza Hamas figure Dr. Nabil al-Salmiah, and their five children - Palestinian hospital officials said. Rescuers said four other people were still missing and at least 24 people were wounded.

"We know he [Mohammed Deif] was injured, but not to what degree," said an
IDF spokeswoman, without giving details as to the source of the information. "He was in the building," she said. Despite a denial from a spokesman for Iz al-Din al-Qassam, Hamas' military wing, Palestinian sources confirmed Deif was moderately wounded.

Meanwhile, six other Palestinians were killed in separate incidents in Gaza on Wednesday, as the IDF troops moved into central Gaza just after midnight.

Three militants were killed in the afternoon by an IAF missile while trying to plant explosives near Kissufim; an Islamic Jihad militant was killed in the early afternoon by an IDF arillery shell near Dir el-Balah; a Palestinian security officer was killed early Wednesday morning in an exchange of fire between IDF forces and armed Palestinians; and a Hamas man died in another predawn air strike near Khan Yunis.

An IDF spokesperson said the Hamas activist al-Salmiah, his wife, and their five children were killed by an IAF missile targeting high-level Hamas commanders in their house who were discussing future attacks on Israel at the time.

Nervous Hamas officials carefully inspected the bodies being brought into the hospital but refused to comment. Abu Anas al-Ghandour, commander of Hamas' armed wing in northern Gaza, was also moderately wounded. Army Radio said he was involved in the Palestinian raid at Kerem Shalom in which IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. Raed Sayed, the head of Hamas' military wing in Gaza City who was in a vehicle outside the house at the time of the strike, apparently escaped. His condition is unknown.

From the force of the blast, the three-story structure collapsed, burying people under the rubble. The family killed in the strike was on the house's upper floor. Hamas activists said additional victims might be buried in the basement.

Hamas official Ismail Radwan pledged to hit back at Israel. "It was a terrible, bloody massacre, and the Zionists will pay a heavy price for it," he said.

David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister's Office, said Wednesday morning, "Israel is engaged in an on-going war to thwart Palestinian terrorism and stop it in its tracks before it reaches the hearts of our own communities. Palestinian terrorist leaders continue to look for refuge and hide behind their own population. Israel is compelled to take measures to stop this terror, including neutralizing the threat posed by Palestinians terrorists who are actively planning terror attacks against Israel."

At least five Qassam rockets fired from Gaza landed on Wednesday on Israeli territory.

A Qassam landed in an open field near Kibbutz Be'eri, in the south, causing a small fire. Another rocket landed earlier in the afternoon in an open field near Sderot, and another landed near Kibbutz Zikim. Palestinians in Gaza fired two more rockets Wednesday morning, one which landed on Palestinian territory, and the other next to Kibbutz Sha'ar in the Negev.

IDF cuts Gaza in half
The IDF expanded its action in the Gaza Strip shortly after midnight Tuesday, when infantry soldiers and tanks entered central Gaza for the first time since Operation Summer Rains began two weeks ago.

The ground operations resumed after a hiatus of a few days, as a combined force of infantry, armored forces and engineering corps seized control of the road leading from the Kissufim checkpoint to the former Gush Katif settlements.

By controlling the corridor around this road, which leads from the Gaza-Israel border to the Mediterranean Sea, the military effectively cuts the Strip in two.

To the sound of gunfire, dozens of armored vehicles trundled into central Gaza down the same road from which troops pulled out less than a year ago.

The IDF returned to Gaza in the operation that began two weeks ago to press for the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit and to halt Qassam rocket fire into southern Israel.

The decision to expand the the military operation in Gaza was made during consultations between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

"Our main target is the terrorist infrastructure - the rocket crews, the gunmen, the arms caches," said an IDF commander.

"But of course we are here to show that if, God forbid, any of us is captured by the enemy, the army will do everything to secure his return."

IDF troops rolled into Gaza from the Kissufim crossing, once the main access point to Jewish settlements, and an access road four kilometers to the south, menacing the nearby city of Khan Yunis and town of Dir al-Balah.

Palestinians said that IDF bulldozers were leveling farmland in the area, and the military ordered Palestinian security forces to leave their forward positions.

Residents and an Associated Press reporter said IDF forces took over radio frequencies used by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Khan Yunis and broadcast messages to civilians, blaming Hamas for the violence and warning them to stay away from the fighting.

Palestinians fired two Qassam rockets that landed south of Ashkelon on Wednesday morning. There were no casualties. IDF troops arrested 15 wanted Palestinians in West Bank before dawn on Wednesday, Israel Radio reported.

Number one wanted Hamas man
The Shin Bet security service has been trying to nab Mohammed Deif for more than ten years. Following Israel's assassination of Hamas military wing chief Salah Shehadah in 2002, Deif has been considered to head both the Hamas military wing and Israel's most wanted list. Deif's involvement in a number of terror attacks, dating back to suicide bus bombings in 1995 and 1996 made him a well-known figure in Israel.

Deif, 36, was born in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He was active in the first Intifada and was jailed briefly in Israel, where he met Fatah activist Mohammed Dahlan. The two kept in touch even after Dahlan was appointed as head of preventive security in Gaza.

Deif managed to avoid arrest during most of the period when the Palestinian security establishment was pursuing and arresting Hamas activists from 1996-2000. Some attribute this to his connections with Dahlan. There were even rumors that he had escaped to Egypt. Deif was detained briefly in 2001.

Deif, who was released from a Palestinian prison early in the intifada, established an infrastructure so secret that other Hamas activists and operatives, from the military as well as political wings, were also ignorant of its activities.