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UN calls for Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire

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The U.N. Security Council called Saturday for a cease-fire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Source:MGN) The U.N. Security Council called Saturday for a cease-fire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Source:MGN)
By EDITH M. LEDERER
Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The U.N. Security Council called Saturday for a cease-fire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict centered on the Gaza Strip.

A council statement approved by all 15 members calls for de-escalation of the violence, restoration of calm, and a resumption of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace agreement based on a two-state solution.

The statement calls for "the reinstitution of the November 2012 cease-fire," which was brokered by Egypt, but gives no time frame for when it should take effect.

Palestinian U.N. envoy, Riyad Mansour stressed, however, that the Palestinians' understanding is that the cease-fire should go into effect immediately.

"We will observe very closely whether Israel will abide by this call and we hope they do," Mansour told reporters. "If they don't, we have a lot in our arsenal, and we will not allow the Security Council to rest for a minute. It is its job to maintain international peace and security, and it is its job to stop this aggression against our people."

In a sign of increasing international pressure to end the conflict, British Foreign Secretary William Hague also called for a cease-fire Saturday and said he would meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the foreign ministers of Germany and France in Vienna on Sunday to discuss a halt to the fighting. Mansour said Arab foreign ministers will also meet Monday "to continue the effort to stop the aggression against our people."

The press statement, which is not legally binding but reflects international opinion, is the first response by the U.N.'s most powerful body, which has been deeply divided on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The United States, Israel's most important ally, has defended the Israeli attacks in response to the barrage of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza, which is controlled by the militant group Hamas. But other council members have decried the escalating Israeli attacks which Mansour said have killed or injured more than 1,000 Palestinians. There have been no fatalities in Israel from the continued rocket fire.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, reiterated American support for Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas attacks.

"That said, we remain concerned about the risk of further escalation and reiterate the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm," the official said. "The United States remains ready to help facilitate a cease fire and hope an end to the current violence can be quickly brought about."

The council statement does not directly mention either the Hamas rocketing or the Israeli response.

Instead, it expresses "serious concern regarding the crisis related to Gaza and the protection and welfare of civilians on both sides" and calls for "respect for international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians."

Mansour said the Arab and Islamic world and the Palestinians' international supporters were "outraged" that the Security Council dragged its feet in responding to the Israeli offensive, which began Tuesday.

He said a proposed Security Council resolution, drafted by the Palestinians and their supporters, "contributed to pressuring the Security Council to adopt this statement."

If the Israelis do not respond immediately to the cease-fire call, Mansour said one option is to go back to the council to pursue approval of the draft resolution, which if adopted would be legally binding.

The initial draft, obtained by The Associated Press, would condemn all violence against civilians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and call for "an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire."

It expresses "grave concern" at the escalating violence and deteriorating situation in the Palestinian territories due to Israeli military operations, particularly against Gaza,, and at the heavy civilian casualties including among children. But it makes no mention of the rockets fired into Israel from Gaza, which would likely make it unacceptable to the United States, which as a permanent council member has veto power.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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