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UN Emergency Session On Gaza Sees No Breakthrough

A man in Gaza gestures near an unexploded bomb with the destroyed Palestinian Authority Justice Ministry in the background after Israeli aerial bombing on January 1.
UNITED NATIONS (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council in the final hours of 2008 held its second emergency session on the conflict in Gaza Strip between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, although the meeting adjourned with no vote as Arab members pressed for a demand for an immediate cease-fire.

Meanwhile, Reuters and other news agencies reported that Israeli warplanes attacked government buildings in the Gaza Strip on New Year's Day after Israel and its Islamist Hamas foe spurned cease-fire calls in the conflict.

Israeli tanks and soldiers were said to be massed near the Gaza border, and the "Ha'aretz" newspaper reported that Israeli security forces had recommended a major but short-term ground offensive into the densely populated enclave, Reuters said.

Aircraft have now carried out some 500 sorties against targets associated with Hamas since the Israeli offensive began on December 27.

Gaza medical officials put the death toll at 400, with nearly 2,000 wounded. The United Nation says at least 25 percent of those killed have been civilians.

AP quoted Hamas as saying that Nizar Rayyan, one of its senior figures with close ties to the group's military wing, had been killed in an air strike. It appeared to be the first time Israeli aircraft targeted senior Hamas members since the offensive began on December 27.

The same agency quoted medics as saying that seven people were killed in the strike on Rayyan's house.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon attended the council's emergency meeting and renewed his call for restraint and a cease-fire by both sides. He expressed his concern over the deepening violence and civilian casualties, denouncing what he called the "irresponsible" behavior of both Hamas and Israel.

"We will be further threatened if the conflict continues or escalates to a new phase of deadly violence," Ban said. "I am profoundly troubled that the call of this council issued nearly four days ago [December 28] for an end to the violence, has gone unheeded."

It was the third time in four days that the UN chief has condemned both Hamas, for its rocket attacks on Israel, and Israel, for its air bombardment of Gaza that has left hundreds dead.

On December 28, the Security Council issued a nonbinding statement, which lacks the weight of a resolution, calling for an end to hostilities. The United States, one of the council's five permanent members, said that before voting on a full Security Council resolution, there must be guarantees from both Israel and Hamas that they will respect a cease-fire.

The December 31 session was called by Egypt and Libya, the only Arab country currently on the Security Council.

Arab states have repeatedly called on the Security Council, the UN's highest executive organ, to issue a resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire between the warring sides, but few had expected such a resolution to be adopted at the emergency session.

The draft resolution circulated by Libya on behalf of the Arab states called for condemnation of Israel but did not censure Hamas's actions.

Before the session adjourned, John Sawers, Britain's permanent representative to the UN, made it clear that only a truce commitment from both sides, Hamas and Israel, would make a possible council resolution viable.

"We will study the draft circulated by our Libyan colleagues on behalf of the Arab group," Sawers said. "For a resolution of this council to secure a broad support, it will need to reflect the responsibilities of all the parties and contribute to a durable cease-fire."

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said "there cannot be a meaningful cease-fire" without a halt to Hamas rocket attacks or "the end of illegal arm smuggling into Gaza."
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador, underscored the importance to Washington of Hamas ending its rocket attacks across the Gaza border into Israel.

"We support an immediate cease-fire that is sustainable and implemented by all," Khalilzad said. "Specifically, this means that Hamas must stop its rocket attacks. There cannot be a meaningful cease-fire without the step, or the end of illegal arm smuggling into Gaza."

Some diplomats at the UN said they thought that the wording of the draft resolution should significantly be changed to provide a balance of the opposing positions of the Arab states on the one side, and Israel's supporters, led by the United States and Britain, on the other.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who holds the rotating EU Presidency after a handover from the French, was quoted by Reuters as saying that he is planning to organize a diplomatic mission on behalf of the bloc to the Middle East to address the conflict there.

He said the mission would include EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and his French and Swedish counterparts.