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06:45 PM ET 02/05/99

Israel Faces Settlements Opposition

By Danica Kirka
Associated Press Writer


UNITED NATIONS (AP) Israel stood alone at the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, defiantly defending its settlement policies while ambassador after ambassador denounced its actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians appealed for support from delegates at the emergency U.N. session, charging that Israel was blatantly disregarding the terms of an October Mideast peace agreement with settlement programs. They claimed the actions also violated the Geneva conventions, which deal mainly with nations' actions during wartime.

``You should not permit this to pass,'' said Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. representative. ``No state should be permitted to reject and challenge the will of the international community and no state should be allowed to be above the law.''

The Palestinians want the General Assembly to adopt a resolution backing a special conference of the countries that signed the Geneva conventions that would exclusively discuss the settlement issue.

Israel's U.N. ambassador, Dore Gold, rejected the initiative, charging that conventions meant to protect civilians in time of war were being manipulated to block housing projects.

``The Geneva conventions and international humanitarian law are, finally, important for the state of Israel and the Jewish people, particularly given the atrocities that our nation underwent in the course of World War II,'' he said. ``To apply to the case of Israel alone a convention created to prevent those same atrocities is not just offensive, it is vulgar.''

The Geneva conventions established a code of conduct for the treatment in wartime of prisoners as well as the sick and wounded. It also says an occupying power must guarantee the protection of civilians in the area it occupies.

The session wrapped up Friday without a vote and is expected to continue Monday. The United States, usually Israel's staunchest supporter at the United Nations, is expected to speak on the issue next week.

At issue is land seized by Israel during the 1967 Mideast War, including the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians say Israeli settlements threaten to change the makeup of these areas, even as their future is being negotiated.

An estimated 150,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, home to 1.6 million Palestinians. Several thousand Israelis live in Gaza, where 1 million Palestinians live. About 210,000 Palestinians live in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians point to a 6,500-unit Israeli housing project planned in the Har Homa neighborhood of east Jerusalem. They say the project violates the Geneva conventions because they prohibit population transfers in occupied territory.

Unlike the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be part of Israel.

Palestinians see Har Homa, which they call Jabal Abu Ghneim, as a threat to their hopes to make east Jerusalem the capital of an independent Palestinian country. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its eternal capital.

Groundbreaking at the project in 1997 set off Palestinian riots that led to a 19-month stalemate in Israel-Palestinian peacemaking.

Friday's heated session opened with both the Israelis and the Palestinians expressing support for Jordan's King Hussein, who is gravely ill with cancer.

It proved to be virtually the only point of agreement, as they then accused each other of violating the U.S.-brokered deal signed at the Wye Plantation in Maryland last fall.

Resolutions from the 185-member General Assembly are nonbinding. The Israelis have routinely ignored U.N. declarations on relations with the Arabs.

The Palestinians want the new Geneva conventions meeting to be convened in March, in the midst of the campaign for Israel's national elections.

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