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U.S. vetoes resolution condemning killing of Hamas leader

Friday, March 26, 2004

UNITED NATIONS -- The United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution Thursday condemning Israel's assassination of a Hamas leader, calling the measure "one-sided" and saying it ignored the group's bloody record of terrorism.

The United States had demanded that the resolution on the death of Ahmed Yassin include a mention of attacks by Hamas and other militant groups. Algeria, the resolution's sponsor, had resisted identifying the groups by name or citing specific attacks.

"This Security Council does nothing to contribute to a peaceful settlement when it condemns one party's actions and turns a blind eye to everything else occurring in the region," U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said before the vote that came after days of bitter debate.

The vote was 11 countries in favor, three countries abstaining, and one country against -- the United States.

Deadly missile attack

Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, was killed in a missile strike Monday morning in the Gaza Strip. He is the highest-ranking militant to die in a series of Israeli assassinations.

Hamas has claimed responsibility for dozens of bombings and shootings of Israelis during 3 1/2 years of violence. Israel says it is weakening Hamas by targeting its leaders, but critics say killing suspects without arresting or trying them violates international law and breeds resentment among Palestinians.

"Israeli policies are not part of the battle against international terrorism; it's part of the problem of creating terrorism," said Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian representative.

Negroponte said the United States, too, was "deeply troubled" by the killing of Yassin.

"Israel's action has escalated tensions in Gaza and the region, and could set back our effort to resume progress towards peace," he said.

He said the United States could not support the resolution because it failed to mention recent attacks by Hamas, including a suicide bombing in Ashdod that killed 10 Israelis last week. The document also limited its condemnation to violence in the Palestinian territories, omitting attacks in Israel.

"The council should be focused on ways to advance the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security," Negroponte said. "The one-sided resolution before the Council does not advance that goal."

Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman accused the Palestinian Authority of siding with Yassin.

"The Security Council ... would have committed an unforgivable act of hypocrisy had it come to the defense of a man whose life's work was the eradication of peace, a man who was nothing less than a mass murderer," Gillerman said.

On Wednesday, the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva voted 31-2 to condemn Israel for Yassin's death, but the body has no power to punish countries. A resolution by the Security Council would have carried more international weight.

The 11 Security Council members who voted for the measure on Thursday were: China, Russia, France, The Philippines, Angola, Chile, Pakistan, Spain, Algeria, Benin and Brazil.

Britain, Germany and Romania abstained from the vote.

The Algerian delegation said it might take the resolution to the full, 191-nation U.N. General Assembly. That body overwhelmingly sides with the Palestinians in such issues, but lacks the prestige of the Security Council.

Gillerman criticized "those council members who were recently victims of horrendous terror" for casting votes in favor of the measure. It was an apparent reference to Spain, where bombings in Madrid killed 190 people on March 11; and Russia, where a Moscow subway attack killed 41 on Feb. 6.

"If you knew before the bloody massacre of your citizens took place who was going to carry that horrendous act out, would you have sat still and let it happen?" Gillerman asked.

The vetoed resolution condemned Yassin's death and called for a "complete cessation of extrajudicial executions."

It also condemned "all terrorist attacks against any civilians as well as all acts of violence and destruction."

However, it did not mention any militant groups by name -- a traditional U.S. demand.

A U.S. draft proposal would have deleted all condemnation of "extrajudicial executions." That issue is a touchy one for the Americans, because the United States has marked suspected terrorists for death in the past.

In perhaps the most dramatic U.S. assassination, a missile fired by a CIA-operated Predator drone killed al-Qaida commander Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi in Yemen in November 2002.

Only five members of the Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- can veto the body's resolutions. Thursday's veto is the United States' 79th and the latest in a long string of vetoes regarding Israel.

The Soviet Union and Russia have cast the most Security Council vetoes over the years, 121. Britain has cast 32, France 18 and China, 5.


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