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U.N. vote backs Arafat

General Assembly calls on Israel to revoke removal threat

Palestinians demonstrate in support of Yasser Arafat.
Palestinians demonstrate in support of Yasser Arafat.

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution Friday calling for Israel to back down from its threat to "remove" Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

There were 133 in favor, four opposed and 15 that abstained. The four voting against were Israel, the United States, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.

The General Assembly vote, which is not legally binding, came after the United States vetoed a similar resolution at the Security Council on Tuesday.

The resolution demands that Israel "desist from any act of deportation and cease any threat to the safety of the elected president of the Palestinian Authority."

The document states "grave concerns" over "extrajudicial executions and suicide bombing attacks, all of which have caused enormous suffering and many innocent victims."

An amendment offered by the European Union included a call for the Palestinian Authority to fight terror.

Threat to Arafat

Israel's Security Cabinet voted last week to seek Arafat's removal, saying he is an obstacle to peace. But it is not clear when and how any removal would be carried out.

Before the vote, Nasser al-Kidwa, the permanent observer of the Palestinian mission to the United Nations, said: "We strongly condemn and reject all of this as illegal and insane and consider it to be an assault on the Palestinian national dignity and the democratic choice of our people.

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"These threats prove once again the intentions of the government of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon to attack the Palestinian national leadership."

Referring to the so-called road map to peace, which envisions a Palestinian state existing in peace with Israel by 2005, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, said the decision of the Israeli Security Cabinet "in principle merely states what world leaders have already recognized and what is effectively affirmed in the road map itself -- that Mr. Arafat is an obstacle to peace.

"He represents the Palestinians' dark past rather than the bright future," Gillerman said. "He is the region's and his own people's greatest tragedy."

U.S. used veto to block resolution

On Tuesday, a resolution was considered by the Security Council, but it failed to pass because of the United States' veto.

Britain, Germany and Bulgaria abstained from the vote. Only the United States and the four other permanent Council members -- China, France, Russia and Britain -- have veto power.

Arab and nonaligned countries asked for an emergency session of the General Assembly to take up the issue, citing the "inability" of the Security Council to "fulfill its [responsibility] for the maintenance for international peace and security."

General Assembly resolutions, unlike Security Council resolutions, are not legally binding and cannot be blocked by a veto.

The United States vetoed the U.N. resolution because, it said, the text failed to explicitly condemn Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades "as organizations responsible for acts of terrorism" and call for the dismantlement of "an infrastructure which supports these terror operations wherever located."

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