The United States on Wednesday blocked a proposed UN Security Council statement expressing regret over Israel's decision to end an international observer force in the West Bank city of Hebron, diplomats said. Kuwait and Indonesia had circulated the draft statement following a closed-door council meeting during which many countries expressed concern about the Israeli move. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that he would not renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), accusing the mission led by Norway of bias.
The 64-member team of unarmed observers was established in Hebron following a massacre of Palestinians in 1994. It stressed "the importance of the mandate of the TIPH and its efforts to foster calm in a highly sensitive area and fragile situation on the ground, which risks further deteriorating, as reflected in the escalating cycle of violence." The text warned Israel that it has an obligation under international law "to protect the Palestinian civilian population in Hebron" as well as the rest of the occupied territories. The United States, which has firmly defended Israel's policies at the United Nations, moved quickly to block the proposed response, diplomats said.
Council statements require unanimous approval. Kuwait's Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi said the council would discuss a proposed visit to the Israeli occupied territories for a close-up look at the situation on the ground. The Hebron mission is tasked with promoting a sense of security for Palestinians in Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank. Hebron is holy to both Muslims and Jews and has been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.At least 600 Jewish settlers live under heavy military guard in the city, which is home to around 200,000 Palestinians. Israeli settlements are seen as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to peace, as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.