UNITED NATIONS — Arab ambassadors urged the U.N. secretary-general Thursday to launch an independent investigation into the killing of 18 Palestinians during a protest march last week against a stifling decade-old Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Tunisian Ambassador Mohammed Khaled Khiari, who heads the Arab group at the United Nations, said its members welcome Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' call for an independent and transparent investigation.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinians' U.N. ambassador, said after the meeting with Guterres that the U.N. leader's response was "positive." He said Guterres expressed serious concern about the death of civilians.
"We agreed that we will continue the contacts," Mansour said, "because there are several options of how to proceed with this — either independent investigation, which he prefers and we prefer, but there are also other models of fact-finding missions."
After the deaths last Friday, the United States, which is Israel's closest ally, blocked the Security Council from issuing a statement that would have authorized the secretary-general to conduct an independent investigation.
Mansour said the Security Council isn't the only route to an investigation.
If needed, he said, the Arab group could go to the 193-member General Assembly or the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, both of which can authorize investigations and where there are no vetoes.
Mansour stressed in an Associated Press interview Wednesday that the secretary-general has the power to establish commissions and conduct investigations and that the U.N. has the manpower on the ground and international contacts to do it.
"It is irrelevant whether Israel will cooperate with it or not," he said.
Khiari, the Tunisian ambassador, said he expects the secretary-general and the international community to use their leverage to avoid a repetition of what he called Israel's "disproportionate use and excessive use of force" in the future.
Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon said that while Palestinian leaders insist the Gaza demonstrations are peaceful, "the world witnessed them turn violent as Hamas and its affiliates exploited women and children as human shields and sent armed terrorists to battle."
He urged the council in a letter Thursday to "send a clear message to the Palestinian leadership insisting that it put an end to these riots that only serve to sow violence and instability."
The Israeli Mission said Danon and other diplomats shared what the mission called "proof" of Hamas' intentions to further incite Gaza residents to riot.
"They also expressed Israel's intentions to act decisively against any attempts to threaten the country's sovereignty," the mission said.