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US vetoes UN draft on Arafat

United Nations, Sept. 17 (Reuters): The US yesterday vetoed a UN resolution demanding that Israel not harm or deport Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, saying the text failed to name Palestinian groups blamed for suicide bombings.

Eleven Security Council members voted in favour of the draft while Britain, Germany and Bulgaria abstained after hours of consultations failed to lead to a compromise acceptable to both the US and Syria, the resolution’s sponsor.

The measure, drafted by Palestinian UN envoy Nasser al-Kidwa with the support of Arab governments,“demands that Israel, the occupying power, desist from any act of deportation and cease any threat to the safety of the elected president of the Palestinian Authority.”

“We will come back to you, perhaps soon in the future,” Al-Kidwa told the council following the vote. “We will not be intimidated by what happened.”

Accusing Arafat of fomenting violence, an allegation he denies, the Israeli security cabinet last week announced Israel would “remove” him as “an obstacle to peace,” although it did not say how or when.

The Israeli declaration unleashed a flood of international indignation. During nearly eight hours of harsh debate in the 15-nation Security Council on Monday, more than 40 governments condemned the decision in principle to get rid of Arafat.

After the vote, US ambassador John Negroponte joined other council members in cautioning Israel that the veto did not mean it should harm Arafat or send him into exile.

He called the resolution “flawed” because it failed to explicitly condemn Palestinian militant groups, such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, all of which have been blamed for suicide bombings in Israel. “This resolution did not take a clear stand against the actions of these terrorist groups or call for decisive action against them,” Negroponte said.

But Syrian UN envoy Fayssal Mekdad called the veto “regrettable” and said Israel “should not be a member of the UN because it is not a peace-loving country. “Syria believes that Israel is responsible for its illogical policy and Israel is as well responsible for having scuttled the peace process in West Asia,” he said.

The council decided late on Monday to hold a vote on the resolution at Syria’s request, despite a veto threat from Washington.

Hours of informal talks ensued, aimed at finding a compromise to avert a US veto while retaining Syria’s support. But in the end, no last-minute changes were proposed.

Israeli ambassador Daniel Gillerman, invited to address the council after the vote along with al-Kidwa, called the measure “tragically lopsided” because it “focused its criticism on the victims of terrorism rather than terrorism itself.”

“The resolution would have come to the defence of a man who has used all his energies to scuttling the road map,” he said.

Al-Kidwa in rebuttal brought up the 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon by Israeli-backed Lebanese Christian militia, carried out at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Aerial Sharon was defence minister. “Just to remind you that today is the 21st anniversary of the massacre of Sabra and Shatilla. Do you remember that' Do you remember Mr Sharon'” al-Kidwa said.

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