UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday urged the U.N. Security Council to take a stand on Israel’s latest offensive in the Gaza Strip, which it said amounted to “illegal criminal actions.”
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor responded by calling on the international community to condemn “indiscriminate rocket fire against Israeli citizens - children, women.” Prosor was referring to five days of escalating Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza.
In a letter to Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, president of the 15-nation council this month, Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour said a “message must be sent to Israel to cease its military campaign against the Palestinian people under its occupation, including the cessation of extrajudicial killing.”
“This escalation, which continues at this moment, demands the attention of the international community, including the Security Council, with the aim of averting the further deterioration and destabilization of the situation on the ground and the fueling by Israel of yet another deadly cycle of violence and bloodshed,” Mansour said.
Israel launched a new major offensive against Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza on Wednesday, killing Hamas’ military commander in an air strike and threatening an invasion of the enclave that the Islamist group vowed would “open the gates of hell”.
Speaking to reporters, Prosor described the Hamas military commander, Ahmed Al-Jaabari, as a “mass murderer” who had been planning fresh attacks against Israeli citizens.
A spokesman for the Indian U.N. mission did not respond immediately to a query about whether the council planned to meet. But several council envoys said there was a good chance the council would meet on Wednesday evening on the crisis.
The Security Council has had difficulty reaching consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, council diplomats say, since the United States works hard to prevent it from taking action that would annoy its close ally Israel.
“There is an expectation that ground forces might move into the Gaza Strip very shortly,” Mansour told reporters. “The situation is escalating.”
“We want the Security Council to act in accordance with its responsibilities to stop this aggression against our people,” he said, without providing details of what action he wanted.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier urged Hamas and Israel to avoid escalating the Gaza fighting.
Prosor said Israel’s action in Gaza was “well-defined.”
“This cannot continue,” he said about the Hamas rocket fire. “We have shown for a very long time a lot of restraint,” he said, adding that Israel is obliged to defend its citizens.
The militant group Hamas, not the Palestinian Authority, controls Gaza.
Mansour added that the Israeli action was intended to draw attention away from the Palestinians’ plan to seek an upgrade of its observer status at the United Nations from that of an “entity” to a “non-member state,” implicitly recognizing Palestinian statehood.
Israel and the United States have made clear they would oppose the Palestinian upgrade, which would give it the right to join international bodies like the International Criminal Court, where it could file legal complaints against Israel. Both have threatened the Palestinians with retaliatory action.
U.N. diplomats say that a vote on the Palestinian request was tentatively scheduled for November 29. A senior Western diplomat said on Wednesday that the Palestinians would easily secure 120 to 130 votes out of the 193-nation General Assembly, ensuring the success of their U.N. upgrade.
Egypt, whose new Islamist government is still honoring the 1979 peace agreement with Israel, condemned the raids on Gaza as a threat to regional security and withdrew its ambassador from Israel. It also called for an emergency Security Council session.
A new Gaza war has loomed on the horizon for months as waves of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli strikes grew increasingly more intense and frequent.
Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 began with a week of air attacks and shelling of Gaza, followed by a land invasion of the blockaded coastal strip, sealed off at sea by the Israeli navy. Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed and 13 Israelis died.
Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Cynthia Osterman