At the United Nations, the US late on Thursday vetoed a Security Council resolution by Arab nations to censure Israel for assassinating Hamas's founder in a missile strike outside a Gaza mosque on Monday.

Washington, alone among major powers in not condemning Monday's assassination as an extrajudicial killing, rejected the resolution because it did not also denounce Hamas for bombings in Israel. The vote was 11 in favour, three abstentions, and the US veto that killed the measure.

"Israel's action has escalated tensions in Gaza and the region, and could set back our effort to resume progress towards peace," US Ambassador John Negroponte said in a statement.

But he added: "This Security Council does nothing to contribute to a peaceful settlement when it condemns one party's actions and turns a blind eye to everything else occurring in the region."

UK, Germany, Romania abstain

In the Security Council, Britain, Germany and Romania abstained after Algeria, negotiating for Arab nations, rejected an amendment they wanted that would have condemned "atrocities" against Israelis.

USAmbassador to the UN John
Negroponte was alone in the veto

The Algerian draft condemned "the most recent extrajudicial execution committed by Israel" and "all attacks against any civilians as well as all acts of violence and destruction".

The measure was backed by China, Russia, Algeria, Pakistan, Angola, Benin, Brazil, Chile, France, Spain and the Philippines.

Palestinians denounced the US action, and 10,000 people demonstrated in the West Bank against Yasin's killing.

"I'm afraid this US veto will be taken by Israel as encouragement to continue on the path of violence and escalation, assassinations and reoccupation" of Palestinian territory, cabinet minister Saib Uraiqat told Reuters.

Israel's 'green light'

Calling the United States the "chairman of the axis of evil in the world", Hamas political leader Muhammad Ghazal said the veto was "Israel's green light to carry out assaults and crimes".

An Israeli government official in Jerusalem welcomed the US veto but expressed disappointment that Washington had been left no other option. "We are troubled by this cynical attempt to condemn those who are fighting terrorism without denouncing the terrorists themselves," he said.

Worshippers at Friday prayers in the Gaza mosque where Yasin had prayed minutes before his assassination wept and demanded revenge as they looked upon the empty spot where the paralysed 67-year-old cleric used to sit in his wheelchair.