- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2006

NEW YORK — A Palestinian representative for the West Bank and Gaza Strip urged the U.N. Security Council yesterday to press Israel to quickly end its Gaza offensive, but the United States said Syria and Iran must first end their role as “state sponsors of terror” and condemn Hamas militants.

Israel, for its part, insisted during an emergency session of the 15-nation council that its military presence was limited to a small part of southern Gaza and was intended to prevent a kidnapped Israeli soldier from being smuggled out of the area.

Israel was doing all it could to minimize harm to Palestinian civilians and planned immediate steps to improve the humanitarian situation in the area, said Daniel Carmon, Israel’s deputy U.N. ambassador.

Palestinian U.N. Observer Riyad Mansour painted a dire picture of conditions in Gaza, where Israeli forces have bombed water pipelines and the area’s sole power plant and attacked the Interior Ministry with missiles.

In the West Bank, Israel had detained at least 64 Palestinians including eight Hamas Cabinet ministers and 24 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, he said.

“The council cannot continue to remain passive in the face of such a military aggression against a defenseless civilian population,” he said, calling for approval of a resolution condemning the incursion and urging the prompt withdrawal of Israeli forces and the release of detained officials.

However, John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called for caution.

“We should not undermine the limited credibility of the council by engaging in debate and rhetoric merely for their own sake,” he said.

The best way to resolve the crisis was for Hamas to quickly and unconditionally release the captured Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit, he said.

“The United States is of the firm view that a prerequisite for ending this conflict is that the governments of Syria and Iran end their role as state sponsors of terror and unequivocally condemn the actions of Hamas,” including Cpl. Shalit’s kidnapping, Mr. Bolton said.

Syria also should arrest Hamas leader and “known international terrorist” Khaled Meshaal, who lives in Damascus, and shut down Hamas offices in its territory, he added.

Many Middle East leaders recognized that Meshaal was “the key to resolving this humanitarian crisis” through Cpl. Shalit’s safe return, said Mr. Carmon, noting the many pleas for his release directed at the Syrian government.

While Israel had shown restraint during weeks of attempted kidnappings and rocket attacks on its territory, it had launched its offensive only after Cpl. Shalit’s abduction and the slaying of 18-year-old settler Eliyahu Asheri, he said.

Gaza had become “a terror base” and diplomatic efforts on Cpl. Shalit’s behalf had proved fruitless, he said. It was Israel’s duty “to do all that we can to bring about his safe return.”

Israel detained the Hamas officials “so they can be tried and brought to justice,” he said. “Israel will not accept terrorists to hide behind political titles.”

Mr. Bolton noted, however, that the Group of Eight industrialized nations, including the United States, had expressed concern about the Palestinian officials’ detention.

“We call on all parties to avoid action that can escalate this situation or harm innocent civilians while acknowledging Israel’s unequivocal right to defend itself and the lives of its citizens,” the U.S. envoy said.

In the Gaza Strip yesterday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh demanded that Israel halt its Gaza offensive if it wanted to free the captured soldier and said the Hamas-led government would not give way to force.

Israel launched air strikes against training camps for militants and pounded Gaza with missiles. At the start of its offensive, it set ablaze the Interior Ministry offices.

Two militants were killed in attacks the army said were aimed at squads firing rockets into Israel.

On Thursday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Hamas had given “conditional approval” for Cpl. Shalit’s release, without specifying the terms. Mohammed Dahlan, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said he hoped an agreement would be reached in the coming days.

Troops have massed near northern Gaza, but diplomatic sources said Israel had paused its offensive into the territory to allow for mediation efforts to continue.

“We are encouraged by the fact that the Israelis are standing down in Gaza and that Hamas is talking openly about repatriating the soldier,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Israel also has rejected demands by militants to free Palestinians jailed by Israel for information about Cpl. Shalit. The groups have not said whether he is dead or alive.

Nidal al-Mughrabi contributed to this article from Gaza.

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