WASHINGTON -- The United Nations Security Council unanimously criticized Israel last night, saying it "deplores" Israeli refusal to receive a mission from the secretary-general to investigate the Oct. 8 Temple Mount killings and the safety of Palestinians in the occupied territories.
The new action, coming 12 days after the council condemned Israeli authorities in connection with the killings, deepened the Jewish state's rift with the world body and highlighted its increasingly difficult relations with the Bush administration.
It followed Israeli rejection of a last-minute U.S. appeal, in a letter Tuesday from President Bush to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, to get Israel to receive the secretary-general's envoys and cooperate with them.
The council remained insistent on Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar's producing a report by the end of this month on the Temple Mount incident and ways to enhance the safety of Palestinian civilians and said it would "give full and expeditious consideration to the report."
This opened the way for renewed action later on dealing with the Palestinian dispute.
In the meantime, however, last night's action gave the United States a window to press for additional Security Council action against Iraq, starting with a measure demanding that embassies in Kuwait be resupplied so that dwindling staffs won't have to be withdrawn.
U.S. officials have been frustrated over the council's preoccupation with the Palestinian issue, which Iraq has tried to exploit in the Arab world and which has allowed a perception to develop of fissures in the international coalition arrayed against Iraq.
State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said President Bush's letter expressed condolences for "the violence and the tragedies and the tension and the deaths that have gone there" and restated "that it is important for all of us to have the focus back on Iraq."
Israeli sources said, however, that Israel had not changed its position on refusing to receive the planned U.N. mission. Israel believes that the Security Council is biased against it and that the mission infringes on its sovereignty.
Its worry is especially deep because the Temple Mount, sacred both to Moslems and Jews, is in mostly Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel absorbed after the 1967 war. Israel insists Jerusalem will remain undivided and its capital.
Mr. Perez de Cuellar has said he will not send the mission. His report, officials said, will be drawn from reports from the scene as well as the official Israeli probe.
The dispute has highlighted deepening strains in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, with the United States torn between its traditional protective role and a need to satisfy members of the Security Council, whose support is needed in the anti-Iraq coalition.
Security Council determination to address Palestinian concerns also produced friction between the United States and Britain.
Britain -- whose ambassador, David Hannay, is presiding over the Security Council -- felt it "had to respond to the will of the council," which viewed the Palestinian problem as more urgent right now than the Persian Gulf crisis, a British diplomat said. Also, "we're rather more inclined to listen to the Palestinians than the Americans are," he said. "It's always a bone of contention."
Before the vote, U.S. diplomats struggled to have the renewed criticism take the form of a statement by Mr. Hannay, which would carry less force than a resolution. U.S. officials feared that another resolution would only harden Israel's stance.
U.S. determination to produce fresh U.N. action against Iraq took on greater urgency this week following remarks by Saudi Arabia's defense minister that were widely interpreted as signaling a softer Saudi stance in the crisis.
The Saudi government later repudiated this interpretation and insisted its policy had not changed. The flap was quickly followed by release of American, French and British hostages, which Iraq attempted to portray as a humanitarian gesture, but which the United States saw as a move to divide the alliance.