U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Sunday again demanded an immediate halt to violence between Israel and Hezbollah, condemning an Israeli airstrike that killed more than 50 people.
He told the Security Council he was "deeply dismayed" that his previous calls for a cease-fire had gone unheeded.
At an emergency meeting of the council called to address the killings, Annan said the region was growing impatient that U.N.'s most powerful body had yet to issue any meaningful response after three weeks of war in Lebanon.
"We meet at a moment of extreme gravity first and foremost for the people of the Middle East, but also for the authority of this organization and especially this council," Annan told reporters before heading into the meeting.
"Action is needed now before many more children, women and men become casualties of a conflict over which they have no control."
Annan told reporters during a news conference that the 15 members "are aware that if we don't handle it right, it could lead to further escalation and could spread."
Qatar later circulated a draft statement on behalf of Arab nations meant to address Annan's concerns.
It would call for an immediate cease-fire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon and condemn the "loss of civilian lives in the town of Qana due to the deliberate targeting" by Israel. It would also seek an international investigation "into the Israeli massacre."
Yet the sharply worded draft had virtually no chance of being accepted by the full council for the same reason that the council has been able to do little up until now.
The United States has so far refused to back Annan's call for a cease-fire, and U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the United States does not want any condemnation of the attack.
He repeated the American insistence that any statement must address what the U.S. says is the root cause of the conflict -- Hezbollah's continued grip on southern Lebanon and its attacks on Israel.
In the three weeks since fighting began, the Security Council's only response has been a weak statement expressing shock and distress at Israel's bombing of a U.N. post on the Lebanon border Tuesday that killed four unarmed military observers.
The Unite States, Israel's chief ally, is primarily responsible because of its refusal to agree to seek a cease-fire.
In unusually frank terms, Annan said the council risked undermining its own authority if it does not do something.
The concern was underscored by attacks on the U.N. headquarters in Beirut earlier Sunday, when protesters angry about the Qana attack smashed windows and hurled stones, he said.
"People have noticed its failure to act firmly and quickly during this crisis," Annan said. "I am deeply dismayed that my earlier calls for the immediate cessation of hostilities were not heeded, with the result that innocent life continues to be taken and innocent civilians continue to suffer."
Lebanese special envoy Nouhad Mahoud echoed those complaints.
"Israel is committing atrocities against humanity," Mahoud said. "The fact that such massacres are yet ... to be taken up by resolutions of this august council, condemning an Israeli airstrike that killed at least 54 people . . . does not mean that the truth is to remain hidden."
UN authority? Hmmm. When have we heard that before? Oh yeah:
The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations, and a threat to peace. Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance. All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?
The United States helped found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective, and respectful, and successful. We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced. And right now those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime. Our partnership of nations can meet the test before us, by making clear what we now expect of the Iraqi regime.
UN authority good. Glad we have that straight.
Meanwhile, before you think disarming Hezbollah is a necessary and sufficient condition of a cease-fire, read Matt.