Image: Gaza airstrike
Khalil Hamra  /  AP
A wounded Palestinian man is wheeled into hospital after a missile strike on a mosque in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, on Saturday. Palestinian medical officials say an Israeli airstrike on the mosque in the Gaza Strip killed more than a dozen people and wounded dozens.
updated 1/3/2009 11:52:47 PM ET 2009-01-04T04:52:47

The United States late Saturday blocked approval of a U.N. Security Council statement calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel and expressing concern at the escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas.

U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the United States saw no prospect of Hamas abiding by last week's council call for an immediate end to the violence. Therefore, he said, a new statement at this time "would not be adhered to and would have no underpinning for success, would not do credit to the council."

France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, the current council president, announced that there was no agreement among members on a statement. But he said there were "strong convergences" among the 15 members to express serious concern about the deteriorating situation in Gaza and the need for "an immediate, permanent and fully respected cease-fire."

Arab nations demanded that the council adopt a statement calling for an immediate cease-fire following Israel's launch of a ground offensive in Gaza earlier Saturday, a view echoed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Libya's U.N. Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi, the only Arab member of the council, said the United States objected to "any outcome" during the closed council discussions on the proposed statement.

He said efforts were made to compromise and agree on a weaker press statement but there was no consensus.

The 15-member council had met behind closed doors to discuss a proposed presidential statement that would also call for all parties to address the humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza, including by opening border crossings.

The five permanent council members — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China — along with Libya, the only Arab nation on the council, then met privately to discuss possibly issuing another press statement.

"We need to have from the Security Council reaction tonight to bring this latest addition of aggression against our people in Gaza to an immediate halt," Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer told reporters.

The statement would have become part of the council's official record but would not have the weight of a Security Council resolution, which is legally binding.

Mansour said 3,000 Palestinians have been killed and injured since Israeli warplanes starting bombing Gaza a week ago. More than 480 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and four killed in Israel.

International criticism of the offensive has increased steadily, but Israel maintains the offensive is aimed at stopping the rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza that have traumatized southern Israel.

Before the council met Saturday night, Ban telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and said he was disappointed that Israel launched a ground offensive and "alarmed that this escalation will inevitably increase the already heavy suffering" of Palestinian civilians, the U.N. spokesman's office said in a statement.

"He called for an immediate end to the ground operation, and asked that Israel do all possible to ensure the protection of civilians and that humanitarian assistance is able to reach those in need," the statement said.

Ban reiterated his call for an immediate cease-fire and urged regional and international partners "to exert all possible influence to bring about an immediate end to the bloodshed and suffering," the statement said.

The secretary-general said the Israeli ground operation is complicating efforts by the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers — the U.N., the U.S., the European Union and Russia — to end the violence.

Several Arab foreign ministers are expected at U.N. headquarters on Monday to urge the Security Council to adopt a resolution ending the Israeli offensive. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delayed his arrival until Tuesday so he can meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the West Bank.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: U.N. chief calls for ‘immediate’ cease-fire

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