UN tells Israel to drop Arafat threats

The United Nations General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to tell Israel to drop a threat to harm or deport Yasir Arafat.

    Palestinian envoy Nasir al-Kidwa: Yasir Arafat must be protected

    The 191-nation assembly, where Washington has no veto, voted 133-4 to adopt a resolution demanding the Jewish state not carry out a policy to "remove" the Palestinian president.

    The United States and Israel voted "No", joined by the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

    Australia, Canada, Kenya and Colombia were among those who abstained.

    Not legally binding

    Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office was swift to dismiss the assembly's verdict.

    "This resolution is meaningless. It is only a declaration and not legally binding," Sharon's spokesman Raanan Gissin said.

    He also claimed the UN General Assembly typically passed resolutions in favour of the Palestinians.

    "If the moon was a Palestinian issue, the General Assembly would vote that the moon is flat rather than round. The Israeli government, by deciding in principle to remove Arafat, only exercised its right to self-defence embodied in the UN charter," he said.

    'Slap for Israel'

    In the West Bank town of Ram Allah, where Arafat has been hemmed in by the Israeli army for some 20 months, the Palestinian Authority praised the resolution.

    "The result of the vote is a slap for Israel and those who support it. The General Assembly vote expresses the support of the majority of member states for Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian people," said the Palestinian leader's main advisor, Nabil Abu Rudeina.

    While the United States voted against the measure, Russia

    and the 15 European Union states voted for it.

    The Palestinian minister in charge of negotiations with Israel, Saib Uraikat, added, "The majority of member states have come out in favor of the peace process, for the end of the occupation, the rights of the Palestinian people and Yasir Arafat, their elected president."

    Veto

    Arab and non-aligned nations asked the assembly to act after

    the United States vetoed a virtually identical

    measure on Tuesday in the 15-nation Security Council.

    It was the 26th US

    veto of a Middle East resolution in the council, Palestinian

    UN envoy Nasir al-Kidwa said.

    Friday's assembly vote revealed divisions in the quartet of

    international mediators - the United States, Russia, the

    European Union and the United Nations -

    responsible for the

    US-driven road map intended to guide the region to

    lasting peace.

    While the United States voted against the measure, Russia

    and the 15 European Union states voted for it.

    Condemnation

    Arafat has been confined to
    Ram Allah for two years  

    EU members unanimously swung in line behind the resolution

    after its sponsors agreed to add phrases

    condemning both Palestinian bombings and Israeli

    killings of Palestinian resistance fighters.

    Israel sparked an international outcry last week when

    it announced a decision "to remove" Arafat as an "obstacle to

    peace".

    It did not say how or when it would do so.

    Turning to the General Assembly after a US veto in the

    Security Council is a time-honoured tactic for the Arab bloc as

    it traditionally enjoys strong support there.

    But while Council

    votes can be binding under international law, assembly measures

    merely reflect the will of the international community.

    Arab League

    Meanwhile, t

    he Arab League withdrew a draft

    resolution on Friday that called on Israel to sign the

    Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and allow the UN to inspect its

    nuclear programme, but vowed to try again next year.

    Israel has not signed the NPT and has never officially

    admitted to having nuclear weapons.

    However, non-proliferation

    experts estimate that Israel has from 100 to 200 nuclear bombs.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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