January 25, 2008 / 4:11 AM / 12 years ago

U.N. aide played down attacks on Israel, envoy says

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations criticized the organization’s humanitarian affairs chief on Thursday for failing to acknowledge the suffering caused by Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel from Gaza.

Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman was referring to comments last week by U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs John Holmes, who said Israel’s decision to shut all border crossings with Gaza had led to a humanitarian crisis and was "collective punishment" for its 1.5 million people.

"I did not hear Mr Holmes describe the 4,100 rockets which have been launched at Israeli cities aimed at the killing of Israeli babies and children, innocents, as a humanitarian crisis," Gillerman told reporters.

"I want to remind Mr Holmes and everybody else who is so worried about the situation in Gaza that Israel left Gaza over two years ago completely," he said after a third day of discussions at the U.N. Security Council failed to produce agreement on a statement about the situation in Gaza.

The Arab League has submitted a non-binding draft statement to the council which expresses concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, criticizes the attacks on Israel and calls on the Jewish state to reopen the border crossings.

Only one of the 15 council members — the United States — opposes the Arab draft. A senior U.S. envoy said Washington was unhappy with it because it fails to condemn the "terrorism" against Israel and ignores the causes of the problem.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which seized control of Gaza after routing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah forces in June 2007, was ultimately responsible for what was happening in Gaza. He said any council statement needed to reflect that.

"The Security Council has never addressed the issue of the illegal coup usurping power from the legitimate Palestinian authority by the terrorist group Hamas," he said, adding that this was at the "core of the problem."

Gillerman expressed a similar view. "It is Hamas which is punishing and hurting its own people," he said.


Arab envoys rejected the U.S. and Israeli views, saying they wanted the council to highlight the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. They said if Washington rejects the statement, they might resubmit it as a binding resolution and challenge the U.S. delegation to veto it.

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari accused the Americans of "trying to turn the victims into victimizers and the victimizers into victims" with their proposed amendments.

Ryad Mansour, the permanent Palestinian observer to the United Nations, told reporters "Israel should take note that 14 members of the Security Council ... are saying that the humanitarian situation in Gaza cannot be tolerated."

U.N. officials have said the suffering in Gaza threatened to undermine the fragile progress made at peace talks in Annapolis, Maryland.

Israel’s deputy defense minister said earlier on Thursday the Jewish state wanted to cut its links with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip after militants blasted open the territory’s border fence with Egypt.

Israel occupied Gaza in 1967 but pulled out its troops and settlers in 2005. It still controls the strip’s northern and eastern borders, airspace and coastal waters. (Editing by Chris Wilson)

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