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UN: Security Council Members Condemn Israel, Look To Paris

UN Security Council members have strongly criticized Israel for its role in the escalation of violence with Palestinian demonstrators. The council gave no collective response to the violence but members urged both sides to ease tensions as high-level talks get underway in Paris. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 4 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- UN Security Council members have criticized Israel for an outbreak of violence with Palestinians that threatens the Middle East peace process.

Many of the 15 countries represented on the council said the visit last week of Israeli hard-line opposition leader Ariel Sharon to a Jerusalem holy site had provoked the violence which has spread to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And many criticized Israel for what they said was excessive use of force.

The French ambassador to the UN, Jean-David Levitte, on Tuesday reiterated his government's criticism of the Sharon visit.

"France condemns without reservation his irresponsible visit to the sacred mosque area, which was taken for domestic political reasons at the most sensitive moment of peace talks."

The Palestinian UN observer, Nasser al-Kidwa, said Sharon's visit was clearly a provocation and he criticized Israel for permitting the trip and providing a strong security presence. He said Israeli military actions since the rise in protests last week had been excessive.

His voice choked with emotion as he described the killing of Palestinian civilians, including 12-year-old Mohammed Dura, whose death in crossfire has been replayed on international television broadcasts.

Kidwa has urged a Council resolution condemning Israel for violating the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. That convention governs the rules of war and says occupying powers must guarantee the protection of civilians. He repeated his charge later in front of reporters.

"There was willful killing by Israeli soldiers of Palestinian civilians. This is clearly a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention."

But Israeli UN ambassador Yehuda Lancry, who spoke after Kidwa in the council, said responsibility for the escalation lies with the Palestinian Authority for inciting the population with what he called "inflammatory rhetoric."

"Let there be no doubt. We are not faced with peaceful demonstrators but rather with a coordinated escalation of violent confrontation throughout the West Bank and Gaza."

Lancry said Israel calls on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to help restore trust and confidence between the two sides and resume peace talks.

U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke appealed to both sides to stop trying to assign blame and focus on stopping the violence and returning to peace talks. He expressed hope that the process can be revived with today's (Wednesday) talks in Paris involving U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and follow-up talks tomorrow (Thursday) hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The UN Security Council is scheduled to discuss the situation again following the Paris talks.