(AP) - Envoys from the U.S. and several nations walked out of a U.N. Security Council meeting Wednesday after Libya compared the situation in Gaza to Nazi concentration camps, council diplomats said.
The walkout was a rare protest by diplomats on the U.N.'s most powerful body against one of their own members. Libya is the only Arab representative on the council.
Council members held a closed meeting to discuss the possibility of issuing a press statement following a briefing on the situation in the Middle East. Assistant Secretary-General Angela Kane had reported on the escalation in violence and growing humanitarian plight in Gaza as well as rocket attacks against Israel.
According to several diplomats, Libya's deputy U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi ended a long speech about the plight of the Palestinians by comparing the situation in Gaza to the German concentration camps in World War II. Some 6 million Jews and up to a half million Gypsies were killed during the Nazi Holocaust.
Immediately after Dabbashi mentioned the concentration camps, diplomats said, French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff, Britain's deputy ambassador Karen Pierce, Belgian Ambassador Johan Verbeke and Costa Rica's deputy ambassador walked out of the council's consultation room.
South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, the current council president, then ended the meeting.
"We support the South African presidency's decision to close the meeting," Britain's Pierce said in a statement. "A number of council members were dismayed by the approach taken by Libya and do not believe that such language helps advance the peace process."
Kumalo would not confirm the walkout, saying "ambassadors always walk in and out" of council meetings.
A call to Israel's U.N. mission was not immediately returned.
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, who is not a Security Council member, told reporters afterwards that he agreed with Libya's characterization of the situation in Gaza.
"We have many times compared this situation - I mean the one prevailing in the occupied Palestinian territories - to the situation in Europe during World War II," he said.
Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the situation in Gaza, accused the Israeli military of perpetrating "atrocious crimes against humanity."
"There is no doubt that the continuation of this genocide and actual holocaust will bring about dangerous ramifications for the peace, stability, tranquility and security," Mottaki warned in the letter obtained Wednesday by the Associated Press,.
Israel has greatly restricted the flow of goods into Gaza since Hamas seized control last June. It has further tightened the blockade in recent weeks in response to heavy fighting. Israel considers Hamas, an Islamic group committed to destruction of the Jewish state, a terrorist group.
In her briefing, the U.N.'s Kane said Gaza has witnessed "heightened humanitarian distress," citing closed crossings and fuel shortages which impact transportation, water supplies, sanitation and the provision of humanitarian aid.
"We are deeply alarmed at the prospect of a further intensification of violence," she said, "given the terrible implications for civilians and the threat such conflict would pose to the security of all parties - the Palestinians, Israel and Egypt."
The U.N. supports and encourages Egypt "to continue its efforts to achieve calm in Gaza leading to a reopening of crossings," Kane said.