The United States Saturday vetoed an Arab-sponsored draft resolution in the UN Security Council that would have condemned Israel's deadly attack in the Gaza Strip, calling the text "unbalanced" and "biased."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement the United States was "compelled to vote against" the draft resolution because "we do not believe (it) was designed to contribute to the cause of peace."
"The resolution would have used the tragic incident in Beit Hanoun to advance a one-sided political agenda," she said, referring to what Israel called an accidental shelling on November 8 that killed 19 Palestinian civilians, mostly women and children, in the Gaza town of Beit Hanun.
"The resolution included inflammatory and unnecessary language that would aggravate the situation in Gaza ... (and) failed to include any reference to terrorism or to condemn Hamas for its threats to broaden the attacks against Israel and the United States," Rice added.
As one of the council's five permanent members along with Britain, China, France and Russia, the United States has veto power which it has now used 82 times, often to shield Israel from censure.
Its previous use of the veto was in July to block a Qatari-sponsored draft resolution that would have condemned Israel's military onslaught in Gaza as "disproportionate force" and would have demanded a halt to Israeli operations in the territory.
Ten of the council's 15 members voted in favor the amended text, introduced by Qatar on behalf of Arab member states, and four -- Britain, Denmark, Japan and Slovakia -- abstained.
Israel immediately hailed the US veto as "very satisfactory" while the Palestinians said it would encourage further Israeli attacks on civilians.
"The American veto is very satisfactory. The draft resolution did not stipulate that what happened at Beit Hanun was a tragic error," Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner said.
But Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas swiftly condemned the veto, saying: "We feel it will encourage Israel to continue its escalation against the Palestinian people."
Explaining her decision to abstain, Britain's deputy UN Ambassador Karen Pierce said: "We were not able to conclude that the draft resolution was sufficiently balanced nor reflected the complexity of the current situation."
But France's UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere disagreed.
"I think the text was a balanced one and (its) adoption would have sent the right signal to both parties that the Security Council is really concerned about what is happening in Gaza, really concerned about the deaths of civilians and the protection of civilians," the French envoy said.
Palestinian UN observer Ryad Mansour also voiced disappointment and accused the council of "shirking its responsibility".
"Palestine is disappointed again," he said and warned that the US veto would push extremists on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide "to take matters into their own hands".
The council vote had been delayed by 24 hours as the sponsors continued efforts to try to make the text more palatable to the US.
Diplomats said Arab countries would now most likely take their case to the 192-member General Assembly, where their draft would get a more sympathetic hearing.
Mansour said Arab foreign ministers, due to hold a special meeting in Cairo Sunday on the Gaza violence, would decide whether to turn to the General Assembly for support.
The Qatari draft would have condemned Israel's military operations in Gaza, particularly the Beit Hanun incident, along with "the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel".
It would have called on Israel "to immediately cease its military operations that endanger the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and to immediately withdraw its forces from within the Gaza Strip to positions prior to June 28, 2006."
It would have urged the international community, including the diplomatic Quartet -- the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union -- "to stabilize the situation and restart the peace process, including through the possible establishment of an international mechanism for protection of the civilian populations."
It also would have directed the UN secretary general to set up a fact-finding mission on the Beit Hanun attack within 30 days.
Wednesday's Israeli strike in Gaza has received worldwide condemnation and led to calls for an immediate halt by the Jewish state of its Gaza offensive, which has left more than 300 Palestinians dead since late June when an Israeli soldier was seized by Palestinian militants fighting to liberate their occupied country.
Meanwhile, Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa on Sunday slammed the "incomprehensible" US veto of a United Nations resolution condemning Israel's devastating raid in the Gaza Strip.
"This sends a message that causes us great sorrow and anger. The message was well received, and it tells us that the peace process is completely dead," Mussa told reporters.
"This veto is incomprehensible and will only fan the flames of anger gripping the Middle East," Mussa said as Arab foreign ministers kicked off an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in the Palestinian territories.