The United States has vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have demanded a halt to Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip. The veto drew a sharp rebuke from Arab representatives.
Ten of the Security Council's 15 members voted in favor of the Arab-backed resolution, one more than necessary for adoption. Four nations - Britain, Peru, Denmark and Slovakia - abstained, and U.S. Ambassador John Bolton cast the lone 'no' vote, killing the measure.
It was the first veto of a Council resolution since October, 2004, when the United States blocked passage of another Middle East resolution.
In raising his hand to cast the U.S. veto, Bolton called the measure unbalanced, and said it would have exacerbated tensions in the region.
"Passage would also have undermined the credibility of the Security Council, which itself must be seen by both sides as an honest broker in the Middle East conflict," said John Bolton.
The vetoed draft would have condemned Israel for using 'disproportionate force' that endangers the lives of Palestinian civilians, and demanded the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. It also called for the release of a captured Israeli soldier.
The head of the Palestinian observer mission at the U.N. Riyad Mansour rejected the U.S. justification for its veto, saying it would not help to resolve the current crisis.
"The repeated failure of the Council to act can only prolong the conflict, rather than end this vicious cycle of violence, resulting in only more bloodshed, suffering and loss for the Palestinian people at the hands of their occupier, and in greater instability throughout the region," said Riyad Mansour.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman praised the United States for what he called its "bold stand" in casting its veto. He defended the current military offensive, and blamed Iran and Syria for financing terrorist groups operating in the region.
"What we are seeing are the actions of Hamas and Hezbollah, but they are merely the fingers of the bloodstained hands and the executioners of the twisted minds of the leaders of the world's most ominous axis of terror, Syria and Iran," said Dan Gillerman.
The vote in the Council came hours after Secretary-General Kofi Annan dispatched a team of senior diplomats to the Middle East in an attempt to defuse tensions. The team, led by Mr. Annan's political adviser Vijay Nambiar will go first to Cairo for a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers, then on to Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Syria.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed disappointment at the timing of the vote. Rice, traveling with President Bush in Europe, said the United States had tried to persuade Security Council members that adoption of an inflammatory resolution before the start of the secretary-general's diplomatic mission would not have been constructive.
She said when that argument did not work, American diplomats attempted to soften the language in the measure. But when that also did not work, Rice said "we used the veto".