US thwarts Libyan push for Gaza truce demand at UN

(Updates with end of meeting; French, US and British envoys)

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 3 (Reuters) - The United States thwarted an effort by Libya on Saturday to persuade the U.N. Security Council to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza after Israel launched a ground invasion, diplomats said.

French U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, currently Security Council president, told reporters after a closed-door session "there was no agreement, but there (were) serious convergences to express serious concern" about the crisis.

The "convergences" of opinions among council members included the need for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and easing the humanitarian crisis Gazans are in, Ripert said.

British Ambassador John Sawers said he was "very disappointed" about the council's failure to agree on a statement during Saturday's 4-hour emergency meeting.

Libya, the only Arab member of the council, had circulated a draft statement expressing "serious concern at the escalation of the situation in Gaza, in particular, after the launching of the Israeli ground offensive" and urged all parties "to observe an immediate ceasefire."

But diplomats said the United States refused to back the Libyan-drafted text and killed the initiative, since council statements must be passed unanimously. Later the United States refused to back a watered-down call for a truce, the diplomats said.

The United States, one of five permanent Security Council members, insists that any statement or resolution state that the Palestinian militant group Hamas is a terrorist organization that seized power in Gaza from the legitimate Palestinian Authority.

U.S. envoy Alejandro Wolff said there was no point in issuing statements that Hamas, which unilaterally declared an end to a 6-month old ceasefire last month, would ignore.

"I don't think it does the council any good ... to issue statements that aren't going to be observed," Wolff said. "Israel's self-defense is not negotiable."

Libya and other Arab states oppose the U.S. view, leaving the 15-nation Security Council deadlocked on the Gaza crisis.


Israel launched the ground offensive in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, sending tanks and infantry into battle with Hamas fighters, who have defied eight days of deadly air strikes with salvos of rocket fire into Israeli towns.

Israel insists its Gaza action aims to halt Hamas rocket attacks. The strip is home to 1.5 million Palestinians.

Riyad Mansour, the permanent Palestinian observer to the United Nations, said it was the council's responsibility to demand that Israel "stop this aggression immediately."

"Israel cannot continue to behave as a state above international law -- this is the law of the jungle," he said.

The United States and Libya have clashed repeatedly on the Israeli-Palestinian issue since Libya joined the council a year ago, and Washington has tried to keep the topic off the agenda whenever possible.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate end to Israel's ground operation in Gaza. Speaking by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Ban conveyed his "extreme concern and disappointment," his press office said in a statement.

At least a quarter of the 453 Palestinians killed have been civilians, a U.N. agency said. Four Israelis have been killed by rockets that continue to pound southern Israel. (Editing by Patricia Zengerle and Chris Wilson)