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UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Friday for sending an armed international force to Palestinian areas to stop the spiraling violence.

Annan, who was in Geneva, told the U.N. Human Rights Commission the United Nations could not stand back from what was happening in the Middle East.

``The situation is so dangerous and the humanitarian and human rights situation so appalling that I think the proposition that a force should be sent in there ... can no longer be deferred,'' Annan told a news conference. ``It is urgent. It is imperative.''

'``I am talking about a force that will help create a secure environment, to allow for assistance, to allow us to be able to end the killing and give us time for negotiations and diplomacy,'' he said at a second news conference later in the day.

Claiming it wants to root out terrorists, Israel has defied demands by the United Nations, the United States and much of the rest of the world that it withdraw its forces from the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said his forces would not pull back until Palestinian militias are crushed.

In New York, the Security Council met in emergency consultations to hear U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast discuss Annan's suggestion.

The force would be armed and would be sent to the Palestinian areas to stop the fighting, said Syrian ambassador Mikhail Wehbe, whose country is on the 15-member Security Council.

Annan envisions a multilateral force that could be quickly assembled _ not U.N. peacekeepers or observers, Annan's spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

``Observers would not be sufficient,'' Eckhard said. ``What you need is a force of sufficient strength to secure the environment in which negotiations could take place and the Palestinians could rebuild the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority without being challenged.''

Deploying such a force would require a Security Council resolution and the approval of Israel and the Palestinians, Eckhard said.

Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. observer, said he hoped the council would quickly accept the idea of an international force.

Israel's U.N. spokesman, Ariel Milo, said Israel would object.

``Israel rejects the introduction of an international force,'' Milo said. ``Deploying such a force will not contribute to peace, and the peace has to be achieved through bilateral negotiations by both sides.''

Diplomats said there would be no decision on the force until Tuesday.

The council has already approved three resolutions in just over three weeks, the latest April 4. The last two demanded that Israel pull back its forces ``without delay.''

This week the Arab nations presented a draft of a new resolution that demands immediate implementation of previous ones and also calls for ``an international presence that could help provide better conditions on the ground.''

The Palestinians have pushed several times for U.N. intervention, possibly through peacekeepers or observers, to end 18 months of bloodshed in the Middle East.