|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
5873rd Meeting (AM)
ISRAELIS, PALESTINIANS NOW ENGAGED IN MOST INTENSIVE FINAL STATUS TALKS IN EIGHT
YEARS, BUT GRAVE RISKS TO PROCESS NOT TO BE OVERLOOKED, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD
Israelis and Palestinians were now engaged in the most intensive negotiations on the final status of their disputed area since the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian political process nearly eight years ago, Angela Kane, Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Security Council this morning.
“The significance of this should not be underestimated, but neither should the grave risks to the process be overlooked,” Ms. Kane said as she briefed Council members on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, during the past month.
During the reporting period, efforts continued to advance the political process through direct bilateral negotiations, she said. There had been major episodes of violence, especially in and around Gaza, and continued “creation of facts on the ground” in the West Bank. Gaza had experienced heightened humanitarian distress, while conditions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, had not significantly improved.
In addition, 79 Palestinians, including 15 children, had been killed in Israel Defense Forces operations and 95 had been injured, she said. Six Israelis had been killed by Palestinian militants and 27 had been injured. At least 70 rockets and mortars had been fired at Israel or at crossing points. Hamas and other militant organizations had also staged a number of attacks against crossing points between Gaza and Israel -- the only outlets for international humanitarian assistance. Israeli air and ground operations against militants in Gaza had intensified following the 9 April terrorist attack on the Nahal Oz fuel depot.
She said that the Secretary-General continued to condemn rocket and other attacks by militants against civilians and the crossings. Such attacks not only threatened Israeli civilians, but also caused unacceptable suffering to the civilian population of Gaza and threatened to lead to a wider escalation. The Secretary-General also condemned civilian casualties in operations of the Israel Defense Forces against militants. She reiterated the Secretary-General’s repeated calls for a cessation of all acts of violence and for all parties to comply with international humanitarian and human rights law. She also encouraged Egypt to continue its efforts to achieve calm in Gaza and to ensure security along the border.
Due to the 9 April attack on the Nahal Oz fuel terminal, Nahal Oz had been closed until 21 April, except for two days, she noted. The Israeli Government was now re-examining security mechanisms to ensure the secure delivery of commercial fuel into Gaza. Equally critical was the low level of fuel to meet transportation needs due to the closure. Vehicular traffic had effectively been brought to a standstill. The lack of fuel had also impacted adversely on water and sanitation, and humanitarian agencies had also been severely affected.
She also announced that the fuel supplies of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) would be exhausted by 24 April. UNRWA had prioritized food distribution, solid waste removal and sewage projects. As of tomorrow, unless petrol was allowed in, UNRWA would discontinue its food assistance to 650,000 refugees, as well as its garbage collection services benefiting 500,000 Gazans. After the Kerem Shalom crossing had been closed on 17 April following an attack by Palestinian militants, only food, cattle, medical and cleaning supplies were entering Gaza through the Sufa crossing. UNRWA had also not received approval for the import of material needed for the annual summer games the Agency facilitated for 250,000 children.
She said the Quartet principals would meet in London on 2 May to review all aspects of the process launched in Annapolis and the situation on the ground. The meeting, chaired by the Secretary-General, would take place on the margins of a meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee aimed at assessing progress in Palestinian institutional and economic development since the last meeting in New York in September 2007. The Secretary-General, along with Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, were working with the parties, regional partners and in the Quartet to support the political process, encourage action to meet commitments and improve conditions on the ground, as well as to address the grave humanitarian, political and security situation in and around Gaza.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority institutions in Gaza remained under the direct control of Hamas, she said. An independent Palestinian human rights group had reported concerns over alleged human rights violations, including denial of legal access to Palestinian detainees. No agreement had been reached on securing the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit or of Palestinian prisoners.
She said that on 30 March, following a trilateral meeting between the United States Secretary of State, the Palestinian Prime Minister and the Israeli Defense Minister, the Israeli Government had announced several measures to ease conditions in the West Bank, as well as its intention to remove obstacles there. Subsequently, it had removed 61 obstacles. United Nations staff on the ground, however, had found that 44 obstacles had been removed, 6 had not been, and there was no evidence of the other 11 having previously existed or of their removal.
Continuing, she reported that tenders and construction permits for hundreds of housing units in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had been announced. The Secretary-General had repeatedly made public his concern that all settlement activity in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank was contrary to international law, Council resolutions and Israel’s obligation under Phase I of the “Road Map”. He was also concerned that Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem remained closed by Israeli order.
Construction work on the barrier continued in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in deviation from the Green Line and contrary to the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion, she said. Restrictions on United Nations operations continued to increase in the West Bank. The installation of Israeli civilian police at checkpoints caused significant delays and security concerns for United Nations staff crossing from the West Bank into Jerusalem. In March, 20 incidents of violence between settlers and Palestinians were reported in the southern West Bank alone, reportedly resulting in the deaths of two Palestinians. A newly trained battalion of Palestinian security forces was expected to be deployed in the coming period. Efforts must continue, with international support, to increase national security planning, reform and train security services, and strengthen all aspects of the rule of law.
Meanwhile, Quartet Representative Tony Blair continued to push for concrete measures to improve economic conditions for the Palestinian population, she said. The full draft of the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan was nearly completed. The Palestinian Cabinet approved the 2008 budget on 31 March. The Palestinian Authority could fund recurrent costs through June, but it would face a deficit of more than $600 million in the second half of 2008 due to insufficient budget support commitments, the weakening dollar and the Palestinian Authority’s decision to repay public and private sector arrears faster than originally planned.
She urged all partners in the region that had not done so to meet their Paris pledges as soon as possible. She welcomed the reaffirmation by the League of Arab States of the Arab Peace Initiative -- a central element in the search for regional peace. She also encouraged Arab support for President Mahmoud Abbas’ efforts to negotiate a peace treaty with Israel, Prime Minister Salam Fayad’s efforts to build the institutions of a future Palestinian State and for Palestinian unity.
Turning to the situation in the Occupied Syrian Golan, she said it had been quiet during the reporting period, although settlement activity continued. Lebanon remained in the grip of an intense political crisis that had so far prevented the election of a new President. The 22 April parliamentary session to elect a President had not taken place and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri had not yet set a date for a new session. Further, the Lebanese Government had decided not to attend the annual Arab League Summit on 29 March in Damascus because it considered Syria responsible for complicating Lebanon’s current political crisis and obstructing implementation of the League of Arab States’ initiative.
She said that, on 22 April, the Secretary-General and Foreign Ministers and representatives of many Arab and European Union countries, as well as the United States, had adopted a statement that expressed dismay at the ongoing political stalemate in Lebanon, called for immediate presidential elections, expressed support for the League of Arab States’ initiative and called for a re-definition and normalization of ties between Lebanon and Syria.
In South Lebanon, the situation in the area of operations of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was mostly quiet, but tense, she reported. In early April, the Israel Defense Forces had carried out a five-day large-scale home-front exercise. The Lebanese Armed Forces were on high alert during that period and no incidents had occurred. But during the night of 30 to 31 March, a UNIFIL patrol was blocked for a few minutes by two vehicles near Jibal al-Butm, denying UNIFIL its freedom of movement in the area of operations. The vehicle’s five occupants were armed with assault rifles -- the first such incident since the end of the 2006 war in the Mission’s area of operations. The patrol challenged the individuals, who left the area before a positive identification could be made.
UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces had since introduced additional coordinated measures, including patrols and checkpoints, to ensure that unauthorized armed personnel were not present and to prevent the transfer of weapons into the area between the Litani River and the Blue Line, she said. UNIFIL had recorded a steep increase in the number of Israeli air violations, from 282 in February to 692 in March and 476 during the first half of April. The over-flights violated Lebanese sovereignty and the Blue Line, and undermined the credibility of UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The meeting commenced at 10:10 a.m. and adjourned at 10:35 a.m.
* *** *For information media • not an official record