U.S. puts brake on U.N. statement over Middle East tensions


FILE PHOTO: The United Nations logo is seen on a window in an empty hallway at United Nations headquarters during the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly high-level debate, which is being held mostly virtually due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in New York, U.S., September 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

NEW YORK (Reuters) -The United States is delaying United Nations Security Council efforts to issue a public statement on escalating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians because it could be harmful to behind-the-scenes efforts to end the violence, according to diplomats and a source familiar with the U.S. strategy.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said Washington is "actively engaged in diplomacy behind the scenes with all parties to achieve a ceasefire" and was concerned that a council statement might be counterproductive at the moment.

The Security Council is instead going to meet privately on Wednesday to discuss the latest violence, diplomats said.

The Security Council first discussed on Monday clashes in East Jerusalem around al-Aqsa mosque. The holy city has been tense during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with the threat of a court ruling evicting Palestinians from homes claimed by Jewish settlers adding to the friction.

Before a further upsurge of violence, the 15-member Security Council began discussions on a draft statement that would express concern about the clashes and the potential evictions, call on Israel to cease Jewish settlement activities, demolitions and evictions, and urge general restraint.

Such statements have to be agreed by consensus. But diplomats said the United States, a close ally of Israel, told council counterparts that the body should not issue a statement at the moment.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations said: "The United States is engaging constructively to ensure any action by the Security Council is helpful in de-escalating tensions."

State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that Washington wanted to see steps to help de-escalate the violence, whether the steps came from Israel, the Palestinian Authority or the Security Council.

"The United Nations is working with all relevant parties to de-escalate the situation urgently," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday. He said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is saddened by "the increasingly large numbers of casualties, including children."

"Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint and calibrate their use of force. The indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars towards Israeli population centers is unacceptable," Dujarric told reporters.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis; Editing by Howard Goller)

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