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UN Council fails to reach agreement on Gaza crisis
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The UN Security Council discussed Tuesday a draft presidential statement that would call for an end to Israel's closure of crossings into the Gaza Strip, but failed to reach an agreement.

The 15-member council held consultations in an emergency session throughout the day amid calls by Arab countries for moves to help end the lockdown of Gaza which has effectively blocked humanitarian assistance to the 1.5 million population in Gaza.

Briefing the council, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe expressed continued UN concern about what he termed the "extremely fragile" humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip while strongly urging Israel to allow "regular and unimpeded" delivery of fuel and basic necessities to the area.

The top political chief also warned Israel against what he called "collective penalties" for the Palestinian people.

"Israel must reconsider and ease its policy of pressuring the civilian population of Gaza for the unacceptable actions of militants," Pascoe said, "Collective penalties are prohibited under international law."

Diplomats took the floor in a formal open meeting to voice their concern over the humanitarian consequences caused by Israel's lockdown of the territory before huddling behind closed door to discuss a draft presidential statement prepared by Libya, the council's president for this month.

The nonbinding text, which has the support of Arab countries, expresses concern over the situation in Gaza and calls on Israel to end its restrictions and ensure access for humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people.

It also urges Israel "to abide by its obligation under international law, including humanitarian and human rights law, and immediately to cease all its illegal measures and practices against the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip."

Palestinian UN observer Ryad Mansour said the situation in the Gaza Strip was distressing and grave, as Israel had intensified its "collective punishment" of the Palestinian civilian population, obstructing the entry into Gaza of even basic food stuffs and other essential humanitarian supplies.

"The current situation is absolutely untenable, humanly unbearable and morally unacceptable," Mansour said, urging the council to take "urgent, practical and specific measures" to end the crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Israel's UN delegate Gilad Cohen said the current crisis was caused by "many wrong choices" made by Palestinian militants who had fired more than 2,000 rockets and mortars at Israel in 2007.

Israel and its Western allies, including the United States and France, opposed the passage of the document, which would require the approval of all council members.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters that the current draft was "unacceptable" because "it does not talk about the rocket attacks" on Israeli civilians.

Western diplomats doubted any adoption of the text in its current form, saying it would have to be amended to include more balanced language.

The council is expected to continue their consultations over the text Wednesday afternoon.

(Xinhua News Agency January 23, 2008)

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