UN condemns Israeli Gaza offensive

On November 18, the UN General Assembly voted 156 to seven, with six abstentions, to support sending a UN fact-finding team to Gaza to investigate the November 8 massacre of 19 sleeping Palestinians in Beit Hanoun by an Israeli artillery barrage. Israel, the US and Australia voted against the resolution, along with four Pacific Island states.

The resolution — softened in tone from the one Washington vetoed in the Security Council on November 11 — "deeply deplored" the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip, and called for an immediate end to the operation and a pullout of Tel Aviv's troops.

Unlike Security Council resolutions, those passed by the General Assembly are non-binding and are considered to be more of a reflection of international opinion. Since 1990, the US has cast more vetos than any of the other four permanent members of the Security Council (Britain, China, France and Russia), with the majority being to protect Israel from censure.

Israel's UN ambassador, Dan Gillerman, denounced the special assembly sesssion as a "circle" and a "farce". He also said: "The General Assembly of the UN is being held hostage by forces of evil", adding, "Whoever supports this resolution is assisting terrorists".

The resolution, which called on UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to organise a fact-finding mission into the events surrounding the killing of Palestinians at Beit Hanun, also called on the Palestinians to cease their retailatory Qassam rocket attacks against Israel.

"I have no doubt that it is not the State of Israel that should be answering questions about the harming of civilians, especially after we voiced deep regret at the harm done", Reuters reported Israeli PM Ehud Olmert as telling his cabinet on November 18. Olmert indicated Israel would refuse to cooperate with any UN investigation team.

In response to the US veto of the Beit Hanoun resolution in the Security Council, Arab states announced on November 12 that they would break ranks with the interntional economic blockade of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) government. They have also called for a new international peace summit.

Reuters reported on November 23 that "Palestinian militant groups offered to stop firing rockets into Israel in exchange for a cessation of all [Israeli] attacks on the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank…

"Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib said the main Palestinian factions including the governing Hamas group, the rival
Fatah of President Mahmoud Abbas and other smaller groups reached the understanding while meeting Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh…

"Habib said a deal would only take effect after Israel agrees and actually ends military actions. The offer was limited only to rocket firing and did not include other forms of attacks by militants such as cross-border attacks and suicide bombings.

"It was the first time that all Palestinian factions and militant groups had agreed on a common proposal."

The previous day, the Israeli government decided to press on with its five-month-old military offensive against the Palestinian population in Gaza, which has caused the deaths of nearly 400 Palestinian civilians. Three Israeli soldiers have been killed in the offensive.

The November 24 Israeli Haaretz daily reported that " Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz exhibited a 'correct relationship' during a meeting of the political-security cabinet yesterday, showing no sign of the well-publicized dispute between them, participants said."

The dispute between them followed Peretz's discussion of a ceasefire in a November 19 telephone conversation with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hareetz reported that "Olmert said that by calling Abbas, Peretz exceeded his authority, damaged existing contact with the Palestinians and failed to give a full and accurate report of the conversation.

"The Peretz camp accused the Olmert camp of maintaining contact with the Palestinians without informing the defense minister about it. Peretz said Abbas initiated the call and that he was merely calling back the Palestinian leader, and accused Olmert of using classified information against him."

In an accompanying analysis piece, Haaretz noted that while Israeli newspaper headlines "told a story of" Peretz's "daring initiative to put an end to the shooting", the reality was the opposite: "That same night Peretz sent in special forces and the air force for more assassination operations in the Gaza Strip, which were answered the next day by a lethal barrage of Qassams against Sderot. Had he really wanted to influence, he should have tried to delay such operations, so as to give Abbas a chance. But at the time the forces went out on the operation, he was busy with a leak of the 'phone conversation affair' to Yedioth Ahronoth."