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Israel for the first time wins UN committee chair

[UNITED NATIONS, UNITED STATES] Israel on Monday was elected to chair a UN committee for the first time in the world body's 71-year history, triggering strong protests from Arab countries and the Palestinians.

Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon won the chair of the legal affairs committee of the General Assembly by picking up 109 votes from the 193 member-states.

Mr Danon's candidacy was put to a vote by secret ballot at the request of Arab countries. All of the other committee chairs were chosen by consensus.

Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour criticised the regional group for putting forward Mr Danon's candidacy, saying he was divisive and unworthy of the task.

"They should have advanced a very responsible qualified candidate and not a big violator of international law," Mr Mansour told reporters.

Yemen's ambassador Khaled Alyemany, who heads the Arab Group at the United Nations, said he had sent a message to all member-states to protest the election of the Israeli ambassador.

"We cannot accept that a country like Israel, violator of international law and humanitarian law and the last colonial force existing in the world, has the right to rule on all legal affairs," said Mr Alyemany.

Mr Danon said he was "very proud" to be the first Israeli to head a UN committee and declared that it was "a pitiful moment to see some of the Arab countries trying to block that nomination." Israel's candidacy was backed by the United States and European countries.

Most of the work on resolutions adopted by the General Assembly is done by committees, which present measures that are agreed by all UN member-states.