28 May 2008
Security Council
SC/9341

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5899th Meeting (AM)


VARIOUS PROCESSES UNDER WAY -– WHILE FRAGILE -– HAVE POTENTIAL TO LASTINGLY


CHANGE ‘CONFLICT-FRAUGHT FACE OF THE MIDDLE EAST’, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD


Special Coordinator Commends Leading Role Regional

Players Taking to Find Political Solutions on Several Fronts


The active roles that regional countries were now playing in addressing the problems of the Middle East were commendable and deserved international support, while further political players and action on the ground was still needed by the parties to the conflict, Robert Serry, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told the Security Council today.


“There are now various processes under way that have the potential to lastingly change the conflict-fraught face of the Middle East,” Mr. Serry said during the regular monthly briefing to the 15-member body.  “At the same time, they all remain fragile,” he added.


Underlying sources of tensions must still be addressed, he said, particularly on the Israeli-Palestinian track, where confidential negotiations between Israel and Palestinians were ongoing, but important gaps remained and visible progress on the ground was needed to create an enabling atmosphere. 


He welcomed the additional budget support to the Palestinian Authority from some Arab countries, as well as the results of a Palestine Investment Conference supported by Israel a few days ago.  Further donor support was vital, with the Palestinian Authority having finalized its 2008-2010 reform and development plan and begun implementing nearly 200 projects worth $250 million.


In the West Bank, the fulfilment of Road Map obligations were key, he stressed.  Some steps had been taken, with Palestinian police continuing efforts to disarm and arrest militants and Israel approving the reopening of 20 Palestinian police stations.  However, Israeli incursions had continued in the West Bank and restrictions remained on the delivery of Palestinian security equipment.


Easing of movement and access were an essential precondition for Palestinian economic revival.  In that regard, three roadblocks had been removed.  Further steps were vital, as the number of obstacles to movement now stood at 600.  He noted that 5,000 permits had been issued for Palestinian workers in Israel.  In addition, settlement construction continued, contrary to international law and Security Council resolutions, along with rising settler violence.  Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem remained closed, hundreds of demolition orders remained pending against Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem and construction of the barrier continued.


In Gaza, the complex political, security, human rights and humanitarian crisis had deepened in the past month, he said, with four Israeli civilians killed by Palestinian militants and 30 injured.  Fifty Palestinians, among them 11 children, killed during Israeli operations, the great majority in Gaza.  Two hundred and seven Palestinians were injured.


He condemned attacks by Hamas and other militant groups on Gaza crossing points, which he called “totally contrary to the interests of the civilian population”.  He also condemned the firing of indiscriminate rockets from Gaza into Israel, saying 191 rockets and at least 183 mortars were fired at civilian targets, with a longer range rocket hitting a shopping mall in Ashkelon, wounding dozens.  Acknowledging Israel’s “legitimate security concerns”, however, he deplored the killing and injuring of civilians in Israel’s response operations.


Meanwhile, he said humanitarian conditions in Gaza were “increasingly grave”, as its people were caught between the closure of crossings due to militant attacks and Israeli measures which he said amounted to collective punishment.  In addition, Hamas-Fatah tensions were increasingly evident and attacks had been reported on institutions associated with Christians.  In the midst of such negative developments, however, he commended Egyptian efforts now under way to ease the situation on the ground, and strongly urged all parties to work to support them.


Turning to Syria, he said the release of simultaneous statements on 21 May from Israel, Syria and Turkey confirming the start of indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria opened up important possibilities for negotiations.  The announcement was said to have been significant, having come after nearly two years of indirect contacts under Turkish auspices.


Turning then to Lebanon, he said that, on 6 May, the Lebanese Cabinet had declared Hizbullah’s exclusive telecommunications network “illegal and unconstitutional”, and that it had then announced the dismissal of the chief of security of Beirut International Airport.  Hizbullah, in protest, had closed all roads to the airport, along with other principal roads.  Later that day, there was an exchange of fire between opposition and pro-Government forces, which then spread to the Beka’a Valley, Tripoli and northern Lebanon.  Rockets and heavy artillery were reported to have been used in the Chouf Mountains.  The hostilities had continued until 14 May, by which time there had been approximately 69 deaths and over 180 injured.


Discussions were then held with the parties on 15 May, he said, involving a ministerial committee of Arab foreign ministers, headed by the Qatari Prime Minister and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.  That led the Lebanese Cabinet to rescind its decisions of 6 May, and an inter-Lebanese understanding that called for withdrawal of armed elements. 


He said a Lebanese national dialogue was held on 16 May in Doha, resulting in an understanding -- on 21 May -- regarding a national unity government and certain aspects of a new electoral law.  In the interest of reinforcing the authority of the Lebanese State all over Lebanon, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced support for the dialogue to continue under the Chairmanship of President Suleiman, elected on 25 May.  Meanwhile, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the Lebanese Air Force continued coordinating operations as usual, without interruption.


He concluded with three observations.  First, he stressed the importance of bringing calm to Gaza, and said he was actively engaged in supporting a more positive strategy on Gaza.  Second, progress must be intensified on the Annapolis track, both in the political negotiations and action on the ground.  Finally, he commended the leading role regional players were taking to find political solutions on several fronts.


The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 10:37 a.m.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record