Syrian Regime Bombs Palestinian Refugees; UN Condemns Israel

By Patrick Goodenough | December 20, 2012 | 1:37am EST

Smoke rises after intense fighting in Syria. (AP Photo/Many Brabo)

( – Two days after Syrian regime fighter jets bombed a Damascus suburb that is home to 150,000 Palestinians registered by the U.N. as refugees, the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday passed nine Mideast-related resolutions by large majorities – all critical of Israel.

The only reference to Syria during the session was to the “occupied Syrian Golan” – the strategic ridge captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War and formally annexed in 1981.

The passage of the nine Israel-focused resolutions came less than three weeks after the General Assembly (UNGA) passed six other resolutions critical of Israel, under its agenda items “the question of Palestine” and “the situation in the Middle East.”

That Nov. 30 session was interrupted for a one-hour meeting for members to discuss the Syrian crisis. After the U.N. special representative for Syria briefing the meeting the only delegate to speak was Syria’s, and he spent 22 minutes defending the Assad regime.

Twenty-five people were reported to have been killed in Sunday’s bombardment of Yarmouk, an area five miles from the center of the Syrian capital where the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) runs facilities including schools and health centers for more than 148,500 Palestinians registered as refugees.

UNRWA said on Monday that Yarmouk’s inhabitants had over the past several days “experienced particularly intense armed engagements involving the use of heavy weapons and aircraft.”

“Credible reports point to civilian deaths, injuries and destruction of property in Yarmouk. There are also waves of significant displacement as Yarmouk residents, including UNRWA staff and their families, scramble to seek safety as the armed conflict persists,” it said.

Beyond Yarmouk, UNRWA says it is providing cash and food assistance to more than 350,000 Palestinians in Syria – out of a total of some 486,000 in the country – who have been directly affected by the raging civil war.

The State Department said on Monday the U.S. was “deeply concerned” by reports of fatalities in Yarmouk and the situation faced by other Palestinian refugees in Syria “who are also increasingly suffering from the escalating violence.” The U.S. is the UNRWA’s biggest bilateral financial supporter.

Tuesday’s UNGA session dealt with resolutions recommended by its “Special Political and Decolonization Committee,” including nine dealing with the Middle East, all relating to Israel.

Among them was one that “deplores those policies and practices of Israel that violate the human rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories,” and “expresses grave concern about the critical situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the Gaza Strip, as a result of unlawful Israeli practices and measures.” It passed by a vote of 98-8, with 72 abstentions.

The other eight included resolutions dealing with the “occupied Syrian Golan,” Israeli settlements, Palestinian refugees, and acts of violence, “especially the excessive use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians, particularly in the Gaza Strip” but also expressing concern about rocket fire targeting Israeli civilian areas from Gaza.

All eight passed in the 193-member assembly by overwhelming majorities (170-1, 170-6, 172-6, 173-6, 171-6, 169-6, 164-8 and 168-1), with the “no” votes coming mostly from Israel, the U.S., Canada and Pacific island nations.

The United Nations General Assembly in session in New York. (UN Photo by Ryan Brown)

The U.S. representative told the General Assembly he was dismayed at the “one-sided” resolutions. The singling-out of Israel did not contribute to peace efforts and damaged the reputation of the U.N., he said.

U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) also slammed the UNGA for its Israel-centric focus.

“Even as the Syrian regime attacked and killed 25 civilians in a refugee camp, the U.N. General Assembly does not say a word,” she said in a statement. “Instead, it vilifies Israel by passing nine resolutions yesterday alone that condemn the democratic Jewish state.”

“The blatant bias the U.N. exhibits would be almost comical if the stakes were not so high, or the situation not so dire,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Why are our tax dollars supporting the activities of this corrupt and broken system? We need to enact real, lasting reforms that will deter the U.N.’s problematic activities and encourage responsible behavior that targets dictators, not democracies.”

‘Surprise, surprise’

The Israeli-Palestinian situation was back on the U.N. agenda on Wednesday, when the Security Council heard a monthly briefing on the issue from U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who said tensions on the ground were worsening in the aftermath of the UNGA’s vote to upgrade the Palestinian status last month.

Feltman, who served as the Obama administration’s assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs before taking up the U.N. post this year, did include in his briefing an update on Syria.

After the briefing, representatives of every Security Council member except the United States used a media stakeout microphone to criticize Israel over planned housing construction in disputed territory, including parts of Jerusalem.

Israeli ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor also took to the microphone, and questioned the U.N. priorities.

“This week, as you saw, [Syrian President] Bashar Assad fired Scud missiles, hence escalating the mass murder of his own population,” he said. “Syrian jet fighters bombed a mosque in a Palestinian refugee camp killing dozens of Palestinians, and a Hezbollah warehouse exploded 300 meters from a school in a densely populated village in southern Lebanon.”

“And among all these events this week in the Middle East, this council decided to single out the most urgent issue today,” Prosor said. “And surprise, surprise, this is the planning of building Jewish homes in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people.”

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