UNITED NATIONS, Jan 6 – The UN Security Council was to meet again Tuesday to weigh an Arab call for an immediate ceasefire in the conflict in the Gaza Strip and for protection of Palestinian civilians, diplomats said.,
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the 15-member body this month, was to chair Tuesday’s meeting, scheduled for 5 pm (2200 GMT), according to France’s UN Ambassador to the UN Jean-Maurice Ripert said.
A Western diplomat said France was working with Arab states to finalize a draft resolution that would call for an immediate ceasefire, specifically an end to the Israeli military assault as well as to rocket firing into Israel by Gaza-based militants.
The text would also urge the lifting of the Israeli siege of Gaza to allow humanitarian access to the beleaguered Palestinian population, protection of Palestinian civilians, a resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a mechanism to monitor the truce and the protection of civilians, diplomats said.
Israel has sealed its border with Gaza during its military offensive there, allowing no movement to and from the territory apart from its own armed forces.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday met with a delegation of Arab foreign ministers led by Arab League Arab League chief Amr Mussa and the two reported a convergence of views on the need for the Security Council to "act decisively and swiftly" to end the Gaza bloodletting.
"We must insist that Israel end its military assault, which is clearly excessive," Ban told the Arab ministers.
At least 555 Palestinians — including more than 90 children — have been killed since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza on December 27 to put an end to rocket firing by Gaza-based militants. More than 2,500 have been wounded.
"We must insist that Hamas (the Palestinian Islamist movement) end immediately its rocket attacks (on Israel), which are so terribly counter-productive, in addition to being completely unacceptable. There must be an immediate ceasefire, durable and fully respected by all," Ban noted.
"We have also agreed to discuss a credible mechanism to ensure the protection of the Palestinian people, as well as humanitarian assistance, and to prevent the further occurrence of this situation," he later told reporters.
The UN secretary general told reporters that he would make the same point to US President George W. Bush during a White House meeting Tuesday morning.
After conferring with Ban, the Arab ministerial delegation met separately with each of the five permanent members of the council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — and later with the 10 non-permanent council members.
US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad said after his meeting with the Arab team that he shared "their concern about the urgency of the situation."
"We want this conflict to end as quickly as possible but for an enduring ceasefire, practical arrangements have to be put in place in which everyone has confidence," he added.
He was referring to the need to ensure that the rocket firing into Israel will end once and for all and to prevent smuggling of weapons once crossing points between Israel and Gaza are reopened.
"We did not want them (Arab ministers) to have false expectations that those practical arrangements can be arrived in the coming hours," Khalilzad told reporters.
Mussa meanwhile slammed the Israeli military offensive in Gaza as "naked aggression … that has to be condemned."
Japan’s UN Ambassador Yukio Takasu, whose country is one of the 10 non-permanent council members, said a key issue was how to set up a "credible, effective monitoring mechanism" of the truce.
But he said details of such a mechanism were not raised during the meeting with the Arab delegation.
Earlier, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki expressed hope that the proposed draft resolution could be adopted at Tuesday’s meeting, which Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas plans to attend.