Tunisia called on the Security Council today to issue a strong condemnation of the Israeli raid on the Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters outside Tunis and demanded the payment of reparations for the loss of human life and property.
Although Tunisian Foreign Minister Beji Caid Essebsi sought a brief debate and prompt action on a minimal resolution, the more militant Arab nations and their allies acted to prolong U.N. consideration of the attack, seeking a stronger text.
A preliminary resolution was circulated informally by Tunisia. It would "strongly condemn Israel for its armed aggression," demand reparations and ask nations to take measures to deter Israel from such acts, "while awaiting the enforcing of mandatory sanctions."
While more militant council members sought a stronger text, western delegates tried to modify the resolution by eliminating the reference to sanctions and a paragraph warning that Israel's "policy of state terrorism" would have grave consequences for the Middle East peace process.
Diplomats assumed, in any case, that the United States would veto any resolution emerging from the backstage negotiations.
Essebsi told the council that the Israeli attack "was concentrated in an exclusively residential area." He made no reference to the U.S. support of Israel on the attack, although his government registered a sharp formal protest in Tunis.
Farouk Kaddoumi, speaking for the PLO, confirmed that the Israeli warplanes had hit his organization's headquarters and charged that Washington, by its support for Israel's act, has lost its credibility "in playing any constructive role" in Middle East peace efforts.
He made no attempt to deny PLO responsibility for the murder of three Israelis in Cyprus, which was cited by Israel as the reason for the reprisal, although other Palestinian spokesmen have denied any link.
In response to the condemnation by a score of speakers, Israeli Ambassador Benjamin Netanyahu defended the air strike as "a legitimate response to acts of terrorism." He called the raid "a surgical strike aimed at the culprits alone," and said any civilian casualties were "wholly inadvertent and unintentional."
Netanyahu cautioned Tunisia that it had the responsiblity to prevent armed attacks launched from its territory.
Earlier, in a speech to the General Assemby, Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir defended the strike in Tunisia, and outlined Israel's conditions for peace talks with Jordan.