The United Nations Security Council on Sunday called for an end to violence in Lebanon and stressed the urgency of securing a lasting, permanent and sustainable cease-fire.
In a presidential statement adopted by the Council at an emergency meeting on Sunday, the Council expresses "extreme shock and distress" at the shelling by Israel of the Lebanese village of Qana, killing dozens of civilians, mostly children, and injuring many others.
"The Security Council strongly deplores this loss of innocent lives and the killing of civilians in the present conflict and requests the Secretary-General to report to it within one week on the circumstances of this tragic incident," the statement said. The Security Council affirms its determination to work without any further delay to adopt a resolution for a lasting settlement of the crisis, drawing on diplomatic efforts underway, the statement said.
The presidential statement was adopted after prolonged consultations among Council members. Despite strong support from many council members for an immediate cease-fire, the statement only called for an end to the violence and an urgent long-term solution to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, and mentioning of "calling for a cessation of the current violence" was dropped.
In the three weeks since fighting began, the Security Council's only response has been a weak statement expressing shock and distress at Israel's bombing of a UN post on the Lebanon border Tuesday that killed four unarmed military observers. The United States, has refused to agree to seek a cease-fire.
After the adoption of the presidential statement, Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said the statement reflects intensive efforts to bring the Security Council out of the state of passively observing what is going on. "These are important things for the Security Council to work intensively to resolve the crisis," he said.
The current Security Council president, France's UN ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said that the statement showed the determination of the Council to help end the violence.
He said the Security Council had been discussing the issue for weeks, with little results. Though the statement is a compromise, the important thing is the Council is now engaged.
U.S. envoy to the UN John Bolton defended Washington's position by saying that the United States objects to conclusive language about the nature of the incident that attempts to foreshadow political solution.
Asked why the Council failed to agree on a cease-fire, he said the United States believes that simply returning to business as usual in the Middle East is not a way to bring about a lasting solution.
Israeli missiles hit several buildings in the southern Lebanese village of Qana on Sunday, killing at least 54, mostly children, in the deadliest attack in 19 days of fighting. Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to hold an emergency Security Council meeting to discuss the latest development.
At the start of the emergency meeting, Annan urged the Council to condemn Israeli killing of dozens of civilians, in the Lebanese village of Qana. and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
"We meet at a moment of extreme gravity - first and foremost for the people of the Middle East, but also for the authority of this Organization, especially this Council," he said.
"We must condemn this action in the strongest possible terms, and I appeal to you to do likewise," said the Secretary-General, voicing dismay that his earlier calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities were not heeded.
While "no one disputes Israel's right to defend itself," the Secretary-General pointed out that "by its manner of doing so it has caused, and is causing, death and suffering on a wholly unacceptable scale."
He said the most urgent need now is to bring the fighting to a halt without further delay. "For that, this Council has a solemn responsibility," he said, reiterating his call for an immediate cessation of hostilities to allow humanitarian relief to reach the victims.
"The authority and standing of this Council are at stake. People have noticed its failure to act firmly and quickly during this crisis," he said, offering the example of the attacks today on the UN in Beirut.
"For the sake of the people of the region and of this Organization, I urge you to act, and to act now."