- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

NEW YORK U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has delivered an uncharacteristically blunt rebuke to Israel, accusing its military of using tactics that have killed and injured hundreds of Palestinian civilians.
"Judging from the means and methods employed by the [Israel Defense Forces] F-16 fighter bombers, helicopter and naval gunships, missiles and bombs of heavy tonnage the fighting has come to resemble all-out conventional warfare," Mr. Annan wrote in a March 12 letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Mr. Annan also said he was dismayed by the Israeli military's "failure to protect and respect ambulances and medical workers, by detaining them or even firing upon clearly marked vehicles."
The letter was apparently written on the same day Mr. Annan spoke to the U.N. Security Council, denouncing Israel's "illegal occupations," an apparent reference to Israeli military incursions into the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent weeks.
The Israeli Mission to the United Nations declined yesterday to comment on the letter, saying that because it was sent to Mr. Sharon, he should be the one to respond in detail.
But one Israeli official rejected criticism of the Israeli military's policy of stopping ambulances to search for weapons.
"There are many incidents on record of terrorists in that part of the world positioning themselves around civilian areas and humanitarian targets with the thinking that would provide protection," said an official at the Israeli Mission to the United Nations.
"We've seen gunmen hiding behind children, [risking] collateral damage that would reflect badly on Israel. We've seen Hezbollah firing on Israel from behind [U.N. peacekeeping troop] positions."
Mr. Annan's letter comes at a time of disintegrating relations between the United Nations and Israel.
But the Israelis were careful to say yesterday that they have respect for the secretary-general and that his actions should not be viewed in the same context as Arab-dominated U.N. conferences and General Assembly debates.
In the last year and a half, anti-Israeli sentiment expressed in speeches, conference language and votes in the General Assembly has been growing at an alarming rate, the Israeli official said.
"As the situation on the ground deteriorates, [the Palestinians] are turning toward the U.N. to achieve what they cannot through other means," the official said.
For example, in the Geneva-based Human Rights Commission, censures of Israel usually pass easily in the 53-member commission, and the language of debate is often undiplomatic.
In addition, Israelis and other diplomats note, the plight of the Palestinians has found its way into all sorts of discussions that have nothing to do with the Middle East.
Israel has been singled out for harsh criticism at international conferences convened to examine the broad subjects of racism and hatred, sustainable development, aging, children's health and the control of illicit firearms.
"Now it's the plight of old people under occupation, women or children under occupation, arms under occupation," said the Israeli envoy. "Over the past 18 months or so, these are efforts we're talking about."
The recent conference against racism held in Durban, South Africa, was so hate-filled that the Israeli and U.S. delegations withdrew in the middle.
Indeed, the General Assembly has discussed the Middle East twice since the Palestinian uprising began nearly 18 months ago, even though threats to international peace and security are under the purview of the Security Council.
One Arab envoy said that Mr. Annan's letter was forceful and appropriate, but that he wished it had been sent "much earlier in this bloody conflict."

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