SAO PAULO, Brazil — The Bush administration yesterday backed Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for Palestinian rocket strikes against Israelis, but urged the Jewish state not to expand the incursions.
As the United States rejected a draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council that demands an end to the operation, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had a right to deal with the threat.
“The immediate problem right now is that Israeli built-up areas are being hit by rockets, and Mr. Sharon finds a need to respond to that,” Mr. Powell told reporters on his plane as he began a visit to Brazil.
“I think his offensive is for the purpose of removing the rockets and the places where the rockets are coming from, and the individuals who are doing it,” the secretary said.
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday opened an investigation into Israeli accusations that Palestinian militants used a U.N. ambulance to transport rockets, his spokesman said yesterday.
Israel demanded Sunday that the United Nations look into whether Palestinians videotaped in the Gaza Strip loading an object into a U.N. van were militants.
Black-and-white footage, taped by an Israeli military drone, showed men running toward a vehicle with “U.N.” painted on the roof. One of them carried a long, thin object that Israeli officials said was a Qassam rocket.
Although Mr. Powell noted that it is up to Israel to decide how long the offensive will last, he said he hoped the incursions do not expand.
“And I hope that whatever [Mr. Sharon] does is proportionate to the threat that Israel is facing, and I hope that this operation can come to a conclusion quickly,” he said.
In New York, the draft resolution was introduced by Algeria, the only Arab member of the Security Council.
Algerian U.N. Ambassador Abdalla Baali said he would like a vote today, “taking into account the urgency of the situation,” which has resulted in at least 63 Palestinian deaths.
“The Palestinian people are exposed to a virtual war of extermination,” Mr. Baali said. “The unfettered use of brutal force is terrifying.”
Israel launched the offensive, code-named Days of Reckoning, after a Palestinian rocket strike killed two children in the southern town of Sderot last week.
Palestinian militants yesterday fired rockets into an Israeli border town despite Israel’s vow to stop such attacks from the Gaza Strip with the massive military offensive.
Palestinian U.N. observer Nasser al-Kidwa said his leadership condemned the “rudimentary” Qassam rocket attacks by Palestinians and especially the killing of Israeli children.