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U.N. chief criticizes Israeli tactics in Mideast

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- In his sharpest public comments to date on violence in the Middle East, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan criticized the Israeli government's use of heavy weaponry in civilian areas and called for an end to its "illegal occupation" of Palestinian territory.

In a speech Tuesday to the U.N. Security Council that had been billed by his spokesman as an appeal, Annan said, "Large-scale military operations in pursuit of Palestinian militants -- involving ground troops, attack helicopters, tanks and F-16s -- have taken place throughout civilian areas and refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, causing large-scale loss of life."

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Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Yehuda Lancry, said his nation already had agreed in principle to withdraw from the territories and defended his government's recent actions.

"We are compelled to take such measures in face of ongoing Palestinian terrorist campaign," Lancry said.

Saying he wanted to speak "directly to the people and leaders of both sides," Annan was also critical of the Palestinians. He told them the "deliberate and indiscriminate targeting of civilians is morally repugnant" and said acts of terror and suicide bombings were doing "immense harm" to their cause.

Annan told Israel "you must end the illegal occupation ... stop the bombing of civilian areas, the assassinations, the unnecessary use of lethal force, the demolitions and the daily humiliation of ordinary Palestinians."

A senior aide to Annan said the secretary-general saw the "paralysis" of the U.N. Security Council and felt he had to "make his moral voice heard."

The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Nasser Al-Kidwa, praised Annan's speech and called it his "strongest" to date.

Al-Kidwa also said that he would be working to introduce a Security Council resolution calling for a cessation of violence and a resumption of negotiations. That resolution probably would drop previous attempts to call for U.N. monitors to the region, which Israel has opposed.

While John Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called Annan's speech a "fair characterization" of the situation in the Middle East, he said the United States is not seeking that the security council take any action.




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