UNITED NATIONS -- Kuwait and Indonesia urged the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to call for protection of Palestinians following Israel's decision to suspend an international observer mission in Hebron, where hundreds of hard-line Jewish settlers live alongside more than 200,000 Palestinians, but diplomats said the United States objected.
The two predominantly Muslim nations on the council called closed-door discussions on the Israeli announcement and then circulated a draft press statement that would recognize the mission's "efforts to foster calm in a highly sensitive area and fragile situation on the ground." But the U.S., Israel's closest ally, rejected the proposed statement, diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations were private.
The Temporary International Presence in Hebron was established in 1994 following Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein's massacre of 29 worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in the West Bank city that triggered riots across Palestinian areas. The mosque is located at the site that is also revered by Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Indonesia's U.N. ambassador, Dian Djani, told reporters that he and Kuwaiti Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi brought up Israel's action because they don't want to see a repetition of the 1994 incident and want "to make sure the situation that is already fragile and tense ... is not going to worsen."
A Security Council resolution adopted in March 1994 strongly condemned the Hebron massacre and called for measures to be taken to guarantee the safety and protection of Palestinian civilians, which led to the monitoring mission. In its latest form, Norway, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey provided unarmed observers and funded the mission in Hebron.
Al-Otaibi said there was "overwhelming support" for an expression of concern that Israel's action might exacerbate the situation on the ground, saying the mission "was like a preventative tool."
Ambassador Anatolio Ndong Mba of Equatorial Guinea, the current council president, signaled differences among council members immediately after the meeting, where the U.S. reportedly said Israel had a right not to renew the temporary mission.
Ndong Mba said he had been authorized to inform the Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors about Wednesday's meeting and to discuss a proposed Security Council visit to the territory that the Palestinians claim for a future independent state.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador at the U.N., stressed that "it is the duty of the Security Council on the basis of the resolutions" to ensure the protection of Palestinian civilians and said he looked forward to meeting with Ndong Mba "as quickly as possible."
He said the Palestinians will react to a Security Council visit "in the most positive way."
But Al-Otaibi told reporters that council visits require approval by all 15 members as well as the countries involved, so the U.S. and Israel would have to give a green light.
Mansour said it was premature to say whether the trip would go ahead.
"The positive thing is that there is an agreement, an authorization to the president of the Security Council to begin the process of consultation on that issue," he said. "Let us give it time, with a positive expectation that it might happen."