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U.S. vetoes resolution demanding U.N. protection for Yasser Arafat

UNITED NATIONS — Yasser Arafat dismissed the United States' veto of a U.N. resolution against Israel's threats to expel him, saying Wednesday that the step will not "shake us." Arabs expressed anger, saying Israel may see the veto as a green light to move against the Palestinian leader.

Washington says it opposes expelling Arafat from the West Bank. But it said the U.N. resolution calling for Israel to halt its threats was "lopsided" and didn't condemn terrorist groups attacking Israel.

Arabs were dismayed by the veto, with some saying the vote showed the United States had lost its credibility as an honest broker in the Middle East. Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, said he hoped the veto doesn't mean the United States supports Israeli policies, "which are opposed by the whole world."

Arafat, speaking to supporters at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah, dismissed the American move. "No decision here or there will shake us," he said. "We are bigger than all decisions."

Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian foreign minister, said U.S. officials "informed us officially" that the veto "is not in any way a green light for Israel."

But that did not reassure many in the Arab world.

"The pretext saying that the draft resolution was unbalanced is baseless," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said Wednesday.

Maher echoed concern Israel might see the vote as a license to go after Arafat. He said that if nations don't pressure Israel to desist from its "provocative and aggressive" policies, it would show the international community's "powerlessness."

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad called the U.S. veto "extremely regrettable," warning it "will antagonize the feeling of Arabs in the region.

Syria, the only Arab nation on the Security Council, had pressed for a vote since last week's decision by Israel's security Cabinet to "remove" Arafat in a manner and time to be decided. Israel blames Arafat for sabotaging the peace process and doing nothing to prevent terrorist attacks.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kerbi, whose country asked for an emergency Arab summit in support of Arafat, told Abu Dhabi TV the American justification of its veto was "unconvincing," and gives the impression the United States is not serious about the peace plan. Moussa, the Arab League chief, said the league was waiting for its members to respond to the summit request.

The Palestinians had generated wide global support for the resolution. Of the 15 Security Council members, 11 voted Tuesday in favor of the resolution. Britain, Germany and Bulgaria abstained.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the resolution did not contain a condemnation of terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, blamed for several suicide attacks against Israel.

He said, "It was lopsided and ... it didn't take into account the elements we thought it ought to take into account, including a robust criticism of Palestinian terrorism."

But Arabs warned the U.S. blocking of the resolution undermined its positions in the Middle East, where many see Washington as favoring Israel.

"Clearly this is not a neutral position," Ziad Abu Amr, a member of the outgoing Palestinian Cabinet, said.

Senior Arafat adviser Nabil Abu Rdeneh told reporters the veto could jeopardize the U.S-backed "road map" for Mideast peace. The vote "is a real encouragement for the Israelis to continue their escalation," he said.

Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. observer, said the United States lost its credibility as an honest broker and warned "serious consequences may follow."

In Jordan, the opposition Muslim Brotherhood said it was not surprised at the U.S. veto because "the Zionist lobby ... controls the American policy in the Middle East."

The Israeli threats against Arafat brought criticism from around the world — and warnings not to carry out the move. Criticism against Israel mounted after Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that killing Arafat was an option, although the foreign minister later backtracked on the remark.

Last Friday, the 15 council members — including the United States — issued a statement saying "the removal of chairman Arafat would be unhelpful and should not be implemented."

The rejected draft resolution would have demanded "that Israel, the occupying power, desist from any act of deportation and to cease any threat to the safety of the elected president of the Palestinian Authority."

It would have condemned Israel's targeted assassinations of militant leaders and Palestinian suicide bombings, "all of which caused enormous suffering and many innocent victims." It also called for a cessation of "all acts of terrorism, provocation, incitement and destruction."

France said it regretted the U.N. resolution didn't pass, saying it "had a balanced message that we believed could bring a consensus."

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman said after Tuesday's vote that the resolution "did not focus on terrorism killing innocent men, women and children" and "the clear legal responsibility of the Palestinian leadership to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure."

The last veto of a Mideast resolution was also by the United States on Dec. 20, 2002 — an Arab-backed resolution condemning Israel for the killings of three U.N. workers, which U.S. officials also termed one-sided.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emry Jones Parry called on Israel not to construe the vote as an endorsement of its action and said the international community had rejected Israel's threat against Arafat.