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 Temporary International Presence in Hebron, a 64-member team of unarmed observers, 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 UN 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."
The proposed statement was to express the Security Council's "regret" about Israel's "unilateral decision" and call for "calm and restraint" in Hebron, according to the text seen by AFP.
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 West Bank.
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.
Ambassador Anatolio Ndong Mba of Equatorial Guinea, the current council president, signaled differences among council members immediately after the meeting, where the US 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 UN, 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 US 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."
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.