|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6742nd Meeting (AM)
Prospects for Resumed Direct Talks Remain Dim amid ‘Uncertain and Difficult’
Palestinian-Israeli Situation, Special Coordinator Tells Security Council
Concerned over Flow of Refugees from Syria into Lebanon,
He Says Violence Continues Unabated despite Government’s Acceptance of Annan Plan
The situation between the Palestinians and Israel remained “uncertain and difficult” amid dim prospects for the resumption of direct negotiations despite international urging that exploratory talks continue under Jordanian auspices, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told the Security Council today.
“The events of the past month demonstrate a dangerous combination of no political progress, instability and violence on the ground, especially in Gaza, and an increasingly precarious situation for the Palestinian Authority,” Robert Serry said at the regular monthly briefing on the region. He later provided an update on the crisis in Syria following the Government’s written acceptance of Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan for ending the deadly violence in that country, which nevertheless continued unabated with more than 9,000 people killed since the beginning of the uprising there, according to “credible estimates”.
On the Israeli-Palestinian situation, Mr. Serry stressed that the difficult uncertainty surrounding it would have to be addressed at the next meeting of the diplomatic Quartet, comprising the United Nations, European Union, Russian Federation and the United States, on 11 April in Washington, D.C. It must “direct collective efforts to overcome gaps in trust and substance, so that we don’t lose sight of the ultimate and agreed goal of a two-State solution”, he said.
At present, however, the parties had not yet found sufficient grounds to resume the talks, he said, adding that he had urged them in the meantime to avoid any provocation and to continue to make progress on the ground for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, the absence of a credible political horizon and a “dire financial situation” were beginning to undermine the viability of the Palestinian State-building effort, he noted, calling in that regard on donors to meet the Palestinian Authority’s $1 billion financing requirement for 2012, and for Israel to play its full role in remediating the situation, including by taking further steps to improve movement, development and trade in Gaza and the West Bank. Area C of the latter was particularly important, he said, calling for a broadening of community-driven planning, the provision of basic services and the transfer of land to the Authority, while welcoming recent progress in obtaining permits for key infrastructure projects.
Meanwhile, the month had seen worrying developments on the ground, he said. In the West Bank, the number of Palestinians injured during Israeli search operations had tripled to 138, while stone-throwing by Palestinians had increased significantly alongside the use of Molotov cocktails. The number of demonstrations and riots had almost doubled, with at least 90 people injured, mostly in protest against Israeli actions, but also in reaction to the lack of progress in the Palestinian Authority’s reconciliation with Hamas. Large demonstrations were expected on the 30 March commemoration of “Land Day” in several countries, he reported, underlining the right of peaceful protest but also the need for non-violence.
He went on to report the confiscation of broadcasting equipment from Palestinian television stations in a dispute over radio frequencies. There were also continuing incidents of hunger strikes against administrative detention, under which some 300 Palestinians continued to be held, in addition to 4,400 detained overall, he said, reiterating that administrative detention must be exceptional and that those detained must be charged and face a fair trial or be released. Settlement activity, as well as incidents of settler violence and demolitions of Palestinian property also continued, he said. The United Nations office responsible for compiling claims of damage caused by construction of the separation barrier had collected more than 26,000 claims after concluding its work in four out of nine affected governorates, he said, urging sustained donor support for that effort.
Turning to Gaza, he said the most extensive escalation of violence in two years had taken place there from 9 to 13 March, when an Israeli strike against a militant leader had resulted in a four-day exchange of rockets and air actions, which had resulted in the deaths of 24 Palestinians, including five civilians. Some 71 Palestinians, among them 55 civilians, had been injured, as had 11 Israeli civilians. Overall during the reporting period, 211 rockets and 36 mortar shells had been fired into Israel, which had conducted one incursion and 42 air strikes against Gaza. Relative calm, restored through Egyptian mediation, remained “tenuous and fragile”, he said, stressing, however, the paramount importance of maintaining it.
He welcomed Israel’s approval of key projects to be implemented by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), including 1,000 housing units, 10 schools, a road and water projects, as well as the lifting of some restrictions on exports. However, he reiterated that the goal remained the lifting of the closure regime within the framework of Security Council resolutions, particularly in respect of construction materials. He added that the extension of the fishing limit was particularly important for some 3,000 families.
Turning to the latest developments in Syria, he reported that the violence on the ground continued unabated but the Syrian Government had written to Mr. Annan, Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, accepting his six-point plan, endorsed by the Security Council last week. Mr. Annan had in turn written to President Bashar al-Assad urging the Syrian Government to put its commitments into immediate effect and stressing that “implementation will be key”. Mr. Serry added that the support of all regional and international actors was also critical to helping secure implementation at all levels and to creating “the conditions for a genuine political process that will meet the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people”.
He said immediate steps were needed from the Syrian Government to show its readiness for a cessation of violence and a political process, issues on which Mr. Annan would also engage the opposition. It was also vital to ensure humanitarian access, he said, reporting that the Syrian authorities had invited United Nations agencies and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to participate in a Government-led humanitarian assessment from 18 to 26 March, which had fallen short of the unimpeded access that the United Nations had requested. However, the gathering of information on significant needs had been allowed, he said, pointing out that the Organization was ready immediately to provide food aid, and that the Humanitarian Coordinator was discussing delivery with the Syrian authorities.
Meanwhile, the situation on Lebanon’s borders with Syria remained of concern, he said, noting that around 900 refugees from Syria had arrived in Lebanon’s Beka’a Valley on 3 and 4 March, the largest such influx since the beginning of the crisis. It had increased the number of refugees in that area to around 5,000, while another 8,100 had registered in northern Lebanon.
Also in Lebanon, tensions had risen in the Palestinian camp of Ein el-Hilweh following the arrival there of an individual accused of plotting attacks against the Lebanese Armed Forces, he reported. The area of operations of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had remained generally quiet, though air violations by Israel continued almost daily. He added that on 21 March the Lebanese Cabinet had authorized the establishment of a petroleum authority to manage the exploration and exploitation of Lebanon’s potential hydrocarbon resources.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 10:26 a.m.
* *** *For information media • not an official record