20 January 2014
Security Council

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

Security Council

7096th Meeting (AM & PM)

Secretary-General Tells Security Council 2014 Will Be ‘Decisive’ Year in Helping

Israelis, Palestinians Draw Back from ‘Unsustainable Status Quo’

Resumed Talks, Tensions around Middle East Dominate Day-long Open Debate

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today that 2014 would be decisive in helping Israelis and Palestinians draw back from a perilous and unsustainable status quo, pressing leaders on both sides to take “bold decisions and painful compromises” for peace or face perhaps the last attempt to salvage the two-State solution.

“I do not underestimate the difficulties,” Mr. Ban told the Security Council, launching a day-long open debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.  “But the risks of inaction or surrender are far greater.”  He said that if President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel were prepared to take such decisions, he would ensure that the United Nations worked to realize the legitimate aspirations of their peoples within the framework of a comprehensive regional settlement.

He said that Secretary of State John Kerry of the United States had worked to lay out a framework on all core issues to address the aspirations of both sides in a balanced manner, and to allow for continuing negotiations towards a final status agreement.  However, a failure of political progress could fuel a downward spiral on the ground, he warned, saying he was alarmed by recurrent violence on all sides, as well as by illegal settlement activity, which was inconsistent with building a lasting peace agreement.  He urged both parties to act responsibly and with restraint.

Palestinians must be able to realize their legitimate aspirations to statehood, self-determination and freedom, he said, including an end to the occupation that had begun began in 1967, with a just solution to the refugee situation and the status of Jerusalem.  Israelis must be able to live in peace and security, within recognized borders, paving the way for their integration into a stable, secure region.  For Palestinians, a comprehensive settlement held the promise of becoming a fully recognized Member State of the United Nations, he said, adding that, for Israel, only a negotiated solution would bring security and recognition in the region and beyond.

Turning to Lebanon, he said that nine years after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, last week’s opening of the trial of the suspected perpetrators at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon recalled the fight against impunity.  He encouraged all parties to ensure that presidential elections were held on time because the Lebanese people looked to their leaders to steer their country through the present difficult time.

The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine said the Palestinians had participated in all stages and initiatives of the peace process for more than 20 years.  Yet, since the resumption of negotiations in July, Israel had announced plans to build more than 7,600 settlements, in addition to the thousands of additional units under construction throughout the occupied territory, including in and around East Jerusalem.  “The negotiations cannot be an objective in themselves, or used as cover to perpetuate the status quo,” he emphasized.  Israel should immediately end its settlement activity, its attempts to control more territory, its arrest of Palestinian civilians and its home demolitions.  Should it persist with colonization, annexation and oppression, the Council’s response must be firm, based on the law and the global consensus on the conflict, he said.

Israel’s representative countered those claims by saying that his country was willing to take “courageous” steps for peace and was committed to serious negotiations with the Palestinians.  In December, it had released convicted terrorists in an effort to advance the peace process, only to see them embraced by President Abbas.  Since the resumption of negotiations, there had been hundreds of examples of Palestinian incitement against Israelis and Jews, but rather than condemning it, the Palestinian Authority only amplified it, with the Fatah party regularly displaying maps that showed an erased Israel.  The conflict had never been about borders or settlements, he said, stressing that the major obstacle to peace was the refusal of Palestinian leaders to accept the Jewish State on any border.  “Each and every one here must tell the Palestinians that there will never be peace as long as they refuse to recognize Israel as the Jewish State and insist on a so-called right of return.”

During the ensuing debate, many of today’s 46 speakers voiced support for ongoing efforts to reach agreement on a two-State solution, and to address the core issues of refugees, Jerusalem, security, borders, water and settlements.  More broadly, they decried the fact that the Middle East remained in the grip of chronic tensions that threatened international peace and security.  Many said the Geneva II Conference, set to begin on 22 January, offered the best way towards ending the conflict in Syria.

On that point, the Russian Federation’s representative expressed support for the Secretary-General’s invitation to the Conference of all those who could directly influence the situation, including Iran.  It was unfortunate that the opposition included neither the National Coordination Committee nor leading Kurdish groups, he said.

The representative of the United States welcomed the Syrian National Coalition’s recent decision to participate in the talks, noting that Syria’s recent bombing of Aleppo and Damascus suburbs showed the conflict could not be stopped by military means.  Humanitarian actors had not been granted access to the country, she said, citing the Yarmouk refugee camp as a tragic example.  She commended Jordan for sheltering some 600,000 Syrian refugees, noting the subsequent strain on domestic resources.  The conflict had also exacerbated pressures on Lebanon, she added.

Nasser Judeh, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Affairs of Jordan, said his country was currently hosting about 1.3 million Syrian citizens, including nearly 600,000 who had taken refuge there since the outbreak of the conflict three years ago.  The cost had been estimated at $1.7 billion in 2013 and would likely reach $2.8 billion in 2014, he said, requesting international support to meet that challenge.

Along similar lines, Lebanon’s representative said that an average 3,000 Syrian refugees flowed into his country each day, while the total figure had surpassed 1 million months ago — representing almost one quarter of Lebanon’s population.  He urged the global community to “act as one” in creating aid corridors within Syria and on its border to allow the dignified return of Syrian refugees.  Lebanon would continue to keep its borders open to all those fleeing the horrors inside Syria, but it could no longer cope alone, he stressed.

Highlighting another problem, Saudi Arabia’s representative said foreign combatants must leave Syrian territory, and that States with influence should pressure the Syrian regime to stop its pogroms.  For its part, the Council must adopt a resolution on the delivery of humanitarian assistance to all parties, wherever they were, and impose sanctions against those impeding it.  Inviting Iran to the Geneva II Conference was “out of the question”, because its soldiers sided with the Syrian regime, he stressed.

Iran’s representative said foreign-backed terrorist attacks were on the rise in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, where they targeted hospitals, schools, religious sites and diplomatic premises.  The strong international support shown for Iraq’s efforts against terrorist groups should be extended to Syria by including the question of “combating terrorism” on the agenda of the Geneva II Conference, he said.

Syria’s representative said he would not respond to the statements of countries that were supporting, arming, harbouring, training and inciting terrorists while facilitating their infiltration of Syria through the borders of neighbouring States.

Also speaking today were the foreign ministers of Luxembourg and the Republic of Korea.  Representatives of Australia, Argentina, Lithuania, Chile, France, Nigeria, United Kingdom, Chad, Rwanda, China, Egypt, Brazil, Morocco, Japan, Pakistan, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Tunisia, Turkey, Qatar, Cuba, Namibia, Djibouti (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Norway, Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), South Africa, Senegal, Iraq, India, Kazakhstan and Ukraine also delivered statements.  Others addressing the Council were the Head of the European Union Delegation, the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and from the Permanent Observer of the Holy See.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 7 p.m.


The Security Council met this morning for an open debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.

Remarks by Secretary-General

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, began by discussing the latest developments on the Geneva II Conference, saying “intensive and urgent” discussions were under way.  He urged all to keep the needs of the Syrian people in mind.

Noting that he had just returned from the Middle East, he said the trip had included his fifth visit to Iraq, a country once again facing serious threats to its stability.  In discussing his concerns with Iraqi leaders, he had urged all sides to remain committed to political dialogue and to uphold respect for the rule of law, as well as human rights.  Reassured by their pledge to hold parliamentary elections on 30 April, he had reiterated his call for political leaders to fulfil their responsibilities to ensure inclusive dialogue, social cohesion and concrete political progress.  On Kuwait, he expressed gratitude to countries that had pledged funding at the second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference on Syria, saying he was also encouraged by the improving bilateral relations between Kuwait and Iraq.

Turning to Lebanon, he commended the President’s leadership in upholding the country’s disassociation polity.  “This is vital to prevent the Syrian crisis from exacerbating tensions in Lebanon,” he emphasized.  Nine years after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, last week’s opening of the trial of suspected perpetrators at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon recalled the fight against impunity, he said.  Violations of Lebanon’s border with Syria continued, including increased air strikes into the Bekaa region.  More than 860,000 refugees had crossed the border into Lebanon, a six-fold increase over 2012.  However, the situation in the operational area of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was relatively stable.  Recalling that the International Support Group for Lebanon had urged support for humanitarian and stabilization efforts, he said Saudi Arabia had pledged $3 billion in assistance to the Lebanese Army, and encouraged all parties to ensure that presidential elections were held on time, since the people of Lebanon looked to their leaders to steer their country through the present difficult time.

He said 2014 would be a decisive year for helping Israelis and Palestinians draw back from “a perilous and unsustainable status quo”.  The United States Secretary of State had worked to lay out a framework on all core issues to address the aspirations of both sides in a fair and balanced manner, while allowing for continued negotiations towards a final status agreement.  Israeli and Palestinian leaders must make “bold decisions and painful compromises” for peace, and prepare their peoples for those necessary steps.  The failure of political progress could fuel a downward spiral on the ground, he said, expressing alarm over the recurrent violence on all sides, as well as illegal settlement activity.  “Building settlements is not consistent with building a long-lasting peace agreement,” he stressed, urging both parties to act responsibly and with restraint.  Ultimately, a sustainable two-State solution required Palestinians to overcome their divisions, he said, expressing hope for a framework in line with all core issues outlined in Security Council resolutions, the Madrid Principles — including land for peace — the road map and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

He said Palestinians must be able to realize their legitimate aspirations to statehood, self-determination and freedom, including an end to the occupation that had begun in 1967, with a just solution to the refugee situation and the status of Jerusalem.  Israelis must be able to live in peace and security, within a recognized border, paving the way for their increasing integration into a stable, secure region.  For Palestinians, a comprehensive settlement held the promise of Palestine becoming a fully recognized M ember State of equal standing with others, he said.  “There is no substitute for negotiations to achieve this end.”  For Israel, too, only a negotiated solution would bring security and recognition in the region and beyond.  “I do not underestimate the difficulties, but the risks of inaction or surrender are far greater,” he said, cautioning that the two sides faced possibly the last opportunity to salvage the two-State solution.  He pledged that, if leaders were prepared to take bold decisions, he would ensure that the United Nations worked towards realization of the legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians within the framework of a comprehensive regional settlement.


RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, noted that today was Martin Luther King Day, recalling the late civil rights leader’s declaration that injustice anywhere threatened justice everywhere.  That principle lay at the heart of United Nations aims and was acutely applicable to the injustices that Palestinians continued to suffer.  Commending the tireless efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry, the Arab Ministerial Follow-up Committee, the Quartet and other countries in support of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and a peaceful settlement, he emphasized that the Council had a duty to ensure respect for its resolutions, which formed the backbone of a fair and sustainable solution.  There must be respect for the principles of a just solution to all core issues, including refugees, Jerusalem, borders, settlements, security, water and prisoners.

He said the Palestinian Government and people were committed to peace and justice and were exhausting all efforts to that end.  “We have responsibly participated in all stages, rounds and initiatives of the peace process for over 20 years, including the current negotiations.”  Yet, the challenges on the ground were formidable, he pointed out, recalling that, since the resumption of negotiations, Israel had announced plans to construct more than 7,600 settlement units, in addition to the thousands of others already under construction throughout Palestine, including in and around East Jerusalem.  Israel also continued construction of its separation wall, destroying the contiguity of Palestinian territory.

The occupying Power also continued its almost-daily military raids on Palestinian areas, perpetuating the violent, destructive face of the occupation, he said, adding that settler terrorism was rampant.  Despite the welcome release of long-term Palestinian prisoners, at least 4,553 Palestinians, including children, had been arrested or detained during 2013 alone, adding to the more than 5,000 Palestinians currently held in Israeli jails.  Israel had destroyed at least 200 Palestinian homes in the past year, forcibly displacing hundreds of people.  Making peace required respect for international law and a change in mentality, behaviour and discourse, in line with the goals of the peace process, he said, emphasizing that the negotiations “cannot be an objective in themselves or be used as cover to perpetuate the status quo”.

He called for an immediate halt to Israel’s settlement activity, its attempts to assert control over more territory, the arrests of Palestinian civilians, home demolitions and forced displacements of people.  The Palestinian leadership was acutely aware of the current moment’s significance and was acting in good faith despite Israel’s obstructive actions.  Should Israel choose to persist with colonization, annexation and oppression, rather than peace, the international community’s response, including that of the Council, must be firm, based on the law and the global consensus on the conflict.  “The message to Israel must be clear:  illegal actions will entail consequences and Israel will be held responsible should such actions lead to the collapse of peace efforts and the two-State solution,” he said.

Expressing grave concern over the tragic situation of Palestine refugees in Syria, he said they continued to suffer death, injury, destruction, displacement and starvation as the conflict raged.  The plight of thousands trapped in the Yarmouk refugee camp was shocking and inhumane, he said, appealing urgently for humanitarian access to the camp and to all civilians suffering in the conflict, in line with international law.  The crisis reconfirmed the extreme vulnerability of Palestine refugees and the need for a just resolution of their plight in the context of any peace agreement and of regional peace, he said, praising the efforts of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and humanitarian groups providing emergency aid to the Palestinians.

RON PROSOR ( Israel) said the world viewed the Middle East as a region shaken by violence.  Amid that “sea of hostility”, Israel was an island of stability and democracy, where the majority governed, but the minority enjoyed equal rights.  Israel was willing to take courageous steps for peace and was committed to serious negotiations with the Palestinians, he said, recalling that, in December, the Government had made the “heartbreaking” decision to release convicted Palestinian terrorists in an effort to advance the peace process.  They had been given a hero’s welcome by Palestinians and embraced by President Mahmoud Abbas, he said, adding that the Palestinian Authority was rewarding terrorists with tens of thousands of dollars.  He asked Council members how they would feel if they had to watch the murderers of their families being celebrated.

Since the beginning of the current peace talks in July, there had been hundreds of examples of Palestinian incitement against Israelis and Jews, he continued, noting that Palestinian children were besieged by messages of hate.  Rather than condemning the incitement, the Palestinian Authority amplified those messages, with the Fatah party regularly displaying maps that showed an erased Israel.  An entire generation had been lost to incitement and the international community must confront Palestinian leaders and demand an end to it.  In 2013, 1,500 attacks had been carried out against Israelis, 700 of which had occurred after the start of the negotiations.  Just in December, a Palestinian sniper had murdered an Israeli Bedouin civilian, yet Israelis had yet to hear President Abbas denounce such attacks.  The Palestinian leadership had yet to learn that real peace required real commitment, he said.

To those who said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the major conflict in the Middle East, he pointed out that Shiites were fighting Sunnis, who, in turn, were fighting Alawites; extremist groups were battling each other in Libya, Yemen and Tunisia; and Al-Qaida forces were overrunning major cities in Iraq.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be solved on its own merits because it was important, not because it would cure the epidemic of violence plaguing the Middle East.  It had never been about borders or settlements, he said, adding that the major obstacle to peace was the refusal of Palestinian leaders to accept the Jewish State on any border.  “Each and every one here must tell the Palestinians that there will never be peace as long as they refuse to recognize Israel as the Jewish State and insist on a so-called right of return,” he stressed.  Israel dedicated a great deal of its resources to assisting Palestinians, he said, noting that more than 100,000 of them earned their living in his country.  Israel transferred millions of dollars worth of electricity, water and natural gas to power Palestinian homes, schools and hospitals.

Turning to Iran, he described that country as the “world’s primary sponsor of terror”, saying its new President believed he could sweep its atrocities “under the Persian rug” by introducing United Nations resolutions that condemned violence and extremism.  Permitting Iran to keep its uranium-enrichment capabilities meant that the country could build a nuclear bomb tomorrow, he said.  In the Gaza Strip, Iran backed the Hamas terrorist group, while in Lebanon, it had helped Hizbullah transform that country into an outpost of terror.  As for Syria, Israelis were deeply troubled by the suffering of the Syrian people and were reaching out to help them.  The Middle East was at a critical juncture, with one road to a future of extremism offered by Iran and Syria, and another offering equality, reform and stability.  The international community must call upon Arab leaders to choose the path of progress, he stressed.

NASSER JUDEH, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Affairs of Jordan, said it was deplorable that the Middle East remained in the grip of chronic tensions that threatened international peace and security, prompting the Security Council to hold regularly special sessions on the region.  Jordan supported the ongoing efforts by the Secretary of State Kerry to reach a Palestinian-Israeli agreement on a two-State solution and to address the core issues of refugees, Jerusalem, security, borders, water and settlements.  It was imperative to implement the two-State solution and establish an independent and fully sovereign Palestinian State within the June 1967 lines, and with East Jerusalem as its capital, he said.

Regarding the conflict in Syria, he said the upcoming international conference to be held in Montreux, Switzerland, was an opportunity to put a political solution on the right track through the cessation of hostilities.  It should not be wasted.  The envisioned political transition should lead immediately, through consensus among all parties, to the creation of an inclusive executive transitional body in which the entire Syrian political spectrum would be represented.  Noting that his country was currently hosting about 1.3 million Syrian citizens, including nearly 600,000 who had taken refuge there since the outbreak of the crisis three years ago, he said the cost had been estimated at $1.7 billion in 2013 and would likely reach $2.8 billion in 2014.  He urged the international community to help Jordan meet the challenge.

JEAN ASSELBORN, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Luxembourg, welcomed Israel’s release of prisoners, but warned that its settlement policy, illegal under international law, represented a real threat to peace and contravened the principle of bona fide negotiations.  Nobody would believe in the success of efforts to achieve peace if settlement activities continued, if the Gaza blockade persisted, if the separation wall continued to grab Palestinian land or if the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure intensified, he warned, saying he was also deeply worried about the continuing rocket attacks on Israeli territory by certain Palestinian factions in Gaza.

Turning to the situation in Syria, he welcomed the 18 January decision by the opposition coalition to attend the Geneva II Conference.  Luxembourg was working towards full participation of women in Syria’s political transition process, in conformity with Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 2122 (2013).  The humanitarian crisis had reached catastrophic proportions, with more than 9 million Syrians, about half of the country’s population, in desperate need of emergency aid.  During last week’s second fund-pledging conference in Kuwait City, Luxembourg had announced a new contribution representing an increase of more than 60 per cent over its pledge of 2013, he said.

CHO TAE-YUL, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, condemned a recent brutal campaign by the Syrian Government, using heavy weapons such as barrel bombs in densely populated areas.  Urging a halt to such indiscriminate killing, he declared that “every second from now is of infinite value, and we must seize the moment to stop further human suffering”.  However, he welcomed the continuing progress in implementation of the Security Council resolution on the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and expressed hope that such a positive sign, as well as the outcome of last week’s humanitarian aid donor conference in Kuwait City, would provide the basis for the success of the Geneva II Conference.  He concluded by expressing his Government’s concern about the recent terrorist attacks in Iraq, and the rising violence in Lebanon.

SAMANTHA POWER ( United States) said the Geneva II talks were best way to begin to end the war in Syria, and her Government was working closely with the international community and the Syrian National Coalition towards the conference.  Welcoming the Coalition’s decision to participate in the talks, in line with the Geneva Communiqué, she said all participants must support core goals, noting that as of this morning, the Government of Iran had still not subscribed fully to the Geneva Communiqué.  The Syrian Government’s recent deadly bombing of Aleppo and Damascus suburbs showed that the conflict could not be stopped through military means.  Noting the failure to implement the Council’s 2 October presidential statement on the ground, she said East Ghouta was an egregious example.  Weapons inspectors had been granted access, but humanitarian actors had not.  The Yarmouk refugee camp was another tragic example, she said, describing the deaths there as horrifying.  UNRWA had only been permitted to bring in 200 parcels to feed 2,000 people for one month, whereas more than 18,000 people were in need, she said.

While the regime was mainly responsible for denying humanitarian access, some rebel groups were also culpable, she continued.  The United States had pledged another $380 million in aid for the Syrians, bringing its total commitment to $1.7 billion since the fighting had broken out.  She called urgently for concrete progress on humanitarian access issues, and on all parties to agree local ceasefires and move ahead with critical releases.  She commended Jordan for sheltering some 600,000 Syrian refugees, noting the subsequent strain on domestic resources.  The conflict had also exacerbated pressure on Lebanon, which was hosting more than 900,000 Syrian refugees, she said, noting that her country was providing support through the recently established International Support Group.  A stable, united Lebanon was in everyone’s interest, and the formation of a new Cabinet was to be encouraged, she said, noting Saudi Arabia’s December commitment to provide generous amounts of additional aid to Lebanese forces.

Condemning the violence in Lebanon, she urged all parties to exercise restraint, and called for full implementation of all relevant Council resolutions, including 1559 (2004) and 1701 (2006).  The United States also strongly condemned rocket attacks from Lebanon into Israel, and welcomed as a positive step towards justice the start of the trial proceedings at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  The United States was continuing efforts to help the Israelis and Palestinians reach a final status agreement, she said, noting that Secretary of State Kerry had returned to the region earlier this month to support a framework on all core issues.  She welcomed the European Union’s December pledge to provide unprecedented political support for the quest by Israel and Palestine to reach a final status agreement.  She also commended the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for having delivered aid in Anbar Province and strongly condemned attacks by Al-Qaida there.

GARY QUINLAN ( Australia) said the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations offered the best chance for peace in the region, and expressed appreciation for Secretary of State Kerry’s perseverance and effective engagement with all parties.  Australia called upon both sides to avoid provocations that could undermine confidence and the negotiations, and stood ready to help, he said.  Deeply concerned about the growing impact of the Syrian conflict, he said Australia would participate, emphasizing that their goal must remain the creation of a transitional governmental body.  The Government and the Syrian National Coalition must participate in a constructive manner, and all parties must heed the Secretary-General’s call for broad representation of women in the talks.  All States must implement existing Council sanctions.

MATEO ESTREME ( Argentina) said peace in Syria was largely contingent on the actions of regional and international actors supporting both sides of the conflict.  He expressed concern over the actions of rebel groups maintaining ties with Al-Qaida, describing that as a serious threat to regional and international stability.  The continued shipment of arms to both parties must end, he emphasized, welcoming the progress achieved in implementing Council resolution 2018 (2011) concerning the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.  States with influence over the parties, particularly the opposition groups, should work to promote success.  Noting the flow of refugees to neighbouring countries, he said it was important to consider referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.  He said Israel’s recent announcement of more settlement-building would thwart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and urged both sides to commit to peace and refrain from actions that might exacerbate the situation.

RAIMONDA MURMOKAITE (Lithuania) emphasized that the total destruction of Syria’s economic and social fabric, displacement and hunger, increasing fragmentation, sectarianism and the spread of extremism was the cost of the Government’s failure three years ago to respond to the people’s peaceful demands for reforms.  Progress on the chemical weapons track must be accompanied by tangible and sustained progress on the humanitarian track, she stressed, noting that the upcoming Geneva peace conference offered a window of opportunity to end the devastating conflict.  Syrian women must be part of that solution, and their active participation must be ensured at all stages of negotiation, reconciliation, and peacebuilding.  On the Palestinian-Israeli situation, Lithuania strongly supported the current United States-supported direct peace negotiations towards a viable two-State solution, she said.

OCTAVIO ERRÁZURIZ ( Chile) recalled that his country had recognized the State of Palestine in 2011 and supported its full membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  In 2012, Chile had co-sponsored the General Assembly resolution that had accorded Palestine the status of non-member o bserver State.  He welcomed the resumed direct negotiations under the auspices of the United States, particularly the personal commitment of Secretary of State Kerry, emphasizing that their success would depend on the parties strengthening dialogue and building confidence.  Chile supported Palestinian reconciliation, he said, calling upon the Islamic Resistance Movement to renounce the use of arms and recognize Israel’s right to exist.  Particularly concerned by the conflict in Syria, he applauded the programme to destroy the country’s chemical weapons arsenal and stressed the need to refrain from providing military supplies to any party in order to prevent exacerbating the conflict and civilian suffering.  The humanitarian crisis required the Council to do everything it could to demand that the parties fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.  On Lebanon, he appealed to political leaders to promote the necessary agreements to enable national institutions to function, thereby allowing the new Prime Minister to assume office.

VITALY I. CHURKIN (Russian Federation), recalling that 2014 was the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, said that his Government would do its utmost to ensure that the two-State solution became a reality.  However, it was up to the parties themselves to find a solution.  The Russian Federation stood for a comprehensive, equitable and long-term settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, based on an international framework and the establishment of an integral Palestinian State within internationally recognized borders and living in peace among its neighbours.  Noting the scaling up of efforts by the Middle East Quartet at the special representative level in Paris on 12 January, he said they should draw on those of the League of Arab States.  The Russian Federation would welcome President Abbas to Moscow in two days, he added.

He said he was extremely concerned about ongoing settlement activities, which annulled even small gestures of goodwill, such as the release of Palestinian detainees.  He also condemned the launching of rockets into Israeli territory, while noting that the situation in the enclave was not improving and calling upon Israel to lift its blockade.  Emphasizing that his country attached great significance to the launch of talks between Syria and the opposition, he expressed support for the Secretary-General’s invitation to all those that could directly influence the situation, including Iran.  However, the national coalition of revolutionaries and opposition forces must stop imposing preconditions.  It was unfortunate that the opposition did not include either the National Coordination Committee or leading Kurdish groups, he said.

GÉRARD ARAUD ( France) said everything must be done to ensure that efforts by the United States to advance negotiations met with success.  The parameters had been set forth in Security Council resolutions, and any new provisional formula must be discarded.  The parties must refrain from any gesture that could undermine the process, particularly the construction of settlements, which the President of France had said, during his 17-19 November visit to Israel, must stop.  On Syria, he said this week would be decisive in light of the start of the Montreux peace conference.  France had done its utmost to help the Syrian National Coalition prepare, while the Syrian regime had done everything to deter the opposition from participating.  As for Iran, its participation was conditional upon its acceptance of the mandate outlined in the Secretary-General’s invitation, he said.  Those responsible for crimes must not play a part in the political transition, and such matters must be referred to the International Criminal Court.

U. JOY OGWU ( Nigeria) reiterated her country’s support for a two-State solution that would enable Israel and Palestine to live side by side in peace and security.  Commending the commitment of the United States to restarting direct talks, she urged international support for the peace process, as well as greater efforts by the parties to find peace.  Israel should reconsider its plans to build 1,400 settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, she said.  Nigeria supported discussion of all final status issues and encouraged both sides to examine the United States plan for security arrangements, with a view to adopting an accord that would address those proposals.  Noting that the Quartet had met at the highest level on 27 September 2013, she said it must give priority to the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian State.  As for Syria, she expressed hope that the Geneva II Conference would create the conditions necessary for peace.

MARK LYALL GRANT ( United Kingdom) said 2014 had started on a positive note with Israel’s decision to release the third tranche of Palestinian prisoners.  However, Israel’s further settlement-building was a matter of concern that seriously threatened international peace, he said, urging avoidance of any further settlement activity.  For the peace process to succeed, people on the ground must see real, tangible benefits, he said, expressing concern over the destruction of Palestinian homes in Area C and East Jerusalem in 2013.  He also condemned attacks on mosques and rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.  Turning to Syria, he said that if Iran was to attend the Geneva II talks, it must fully accept the Geneva communiqué, adding that women must have a full role in the negotiations.  The regime continued to attack civilians across Syria, and the situation should be referred to the International Criminal Court, he said, describing the crisis as “unparalleled” and stressing that the world must respond accordingly.  Describing as unacceptable the Syrian regime’s deliberate blocking of humanitarian assistance, he noted that it had allowed weapons inspectors into the country and must do the same for aid workers.

MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF ( Chad) said the Palestinians and Israelis must bolster efforts towards negotiations on all final status issues.  Only a fair negotiated solution could allow Palestinians to realize their inalienable rights and Israel to live within secure borders.  He condemned violence on both sides, saying it undermined the peace process.  He welcomed Palestine’s accession to UNESCO and its new status at the United Nations.  Turning to Syria, he welcomed the destruction of its chemical arsenal, saying those who had used the weapons should be identified and prosecuted.  Human rights violations must be condemned and those responsible brought to justice.  He firmly condemned car bombings and other terrorist attacks in Lebanon, and welcomed the opening of the Hariri trial at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  The international community must help Lebanon better deal with the consequences of the Syrian crisis, he added.

EMMANUEL NIBISHAKA ( Rwanda) voiced hope that the parties would seize the opportunity for a just, lasting solution during the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.  Both sides must show trust and readiness to sacrifice positions so as to reach agreement.  He urged parties to refrain from cross-border attacks and all forms of incitement to violence.  Strongly condemning rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel, he called upon all parties in that area to support the peace process.  On Syria, he stressed that there could be no military solution to the conflict in Syria, noting that the costs of war were too high to endure.  Rwanda was concerned that civilians were trapped in contested areas and cut off from aid, he said, calling on all parties to facilitate safe and unhindered access.  As for Lebanon, he welcomed the start of the trial at the Special Tribunal.  However, the overall situation in that country was deteriorating.  Ending the sectarian violence would depend on the outcome of the Geneva II Conference, he said, urging Lebanon to uphold its disassociation policy.

LIU JIEYI ( China) said the establishment of an independent State of Palestine living in peaceful coexistence with its neighbours was an important guarantee for long-term peace and security in the Middle East.  The parties should follow United Nations resolutions, the Arab Peace Initiative, the road map and other measures with a view to achieving peace.  China supported the Arab-Israeli talks, which were now at a critical juncture, he said, adding that the parties should recognize each other’s right to exist.  China opposed Israeli settlement-building in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and other areas, calling for an end to such activity and the lifting of the blockade on Gaza.  Last May, China had, for the first time, received Palestinian and Israeli ministers at the same time, having made a four-point proposal, he said.  Turning to Syria, he said a political settlement reached through dialogue was the only correct choice.  An inclusive political transition must be promoted, national reconciliation and unity must be reached and humanitarian assistance must be delivered, he said, stressing also that Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected.

NAWAF SALAM ( Lebanon), noting Israel’s announced intention to build 1,400 new housing units in the occupied territories, said unabated settlement activity would undoubtedly place the future of the negotiations in jeopardy.  He urged the Council to act without delay.  Regarding Syria, he said that, as the conflict there unfolded, an average of 3,000 refugees continued to flow into Lebanon.  Months ago the total number had surpassed 1 million, almost a quarter of Lebanon’s population.  “The suffering of the Syrians in Syria must end and the flow of Syrian refugees must stop,” he said, urging the international community to act as one to create aid corridors within Syria and on its border to allow the dignified, gradual return of refugees.  Lebanon had kept open its borders to all those fleeing the horrors in Syria and would continue to do so, but it was unrealistic not to acknowledge that it could no longer cope alone.  Recalling that the Council had unanimously adopted resolution 2118 (2013) on eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons, he said it must now show similar commitment on the humanitarian front.

Despite challenges, Lebanon remained committed to full implementation of Council resolution 1701 (2006), he said, stressing the need swiftly to end Israel’s systematic violations of Lebanese sovereignty by land, air and sea.  In a 9 January letter, Lebanon had submitted a complaint against Israel’s launch of electronic warfare against it, using a growing number of sites, towers, antennae and other monitoring and espionage devices it had installed on the Lebanese-Israeli border.  He called upon the Council to condemn such blatant violations of international law and take the necessary steps to end them.  He recalled the Council’s welcome of the beginning of the trial proceedings at the Special Tribunal of Lebanon, and the statement by the Prime Minister that the beginning of the trial was a sure first step towards uncovering the truth behind former Prime Minister Hariri’s assassination.  The International Support Group for Lebanon, established in September 2013 and based upon the need for strong, internationally coordinated support to help Lebanon withstand security and stability challenges, had underscored the importance of the national disassociation policy and the Baabda Declaration, he said.  Today, more than ever, such support was needed to help shield Lebanon from the spillover from the Syrian crisis, and from being turned into a battlefield for regional rivalries and proxy wars.

MOOTAZ AHMADEIN KHALIL ( Egypt) said high-level Israeli officials had questioned the two-State solution and raised new, controversial issues that would complicate the possibility of reaching agreement.  The Prime Minister had told his party’s cabinet that he would not accept any reference to Jerusalem in the framework agreement, and insisted on keeping additional illegal settlement blocks under Israeli sovereignty.  Israel had also announced bids for the construction of thousands of new settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, ignoring the message from several European ambassadors that such steps did not help the peace process.  The Council should take appropriate steps to stop that deliberate sabotage of the peace talks, he said, commending the decision by the Netherlands drinking water supplier Vitens to suspend cooperation with Israel’s national water corporation because of its illegal activities in the occupied territories.

He said security for Palestine and Israel could only be achieved by establishing peace on the basis of respect for the rights of others to exist, and to live in decent conditions.  A political solution reached through dialogue was necessary to end the Syrian conflict, he said, adding that Egypt supported efforts to convene the Geneva II Conference and commending the opposition’s decision to participate.  He called on the Syrian Government and opposition to work seriously to develop the requisite arrangements for a transitional period that would secure Syria’s territorial integrity and social cohesion, in line with the Geneva communiqué.  However, the current situation should not divert the Council’s attention from implementing previous resolutions on Israel’s illegal occupation of the Syrian Golan.

Commending efforts to implement the agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons, he recalled that the Council had only partially implemented its resolution 687 (1991) on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and had only followed up on implementation of that text’s paragraph 14, which considered that such a step would rid the Middle East of such weapons, until after the use of chemical weapons inside Syria last August.  “Do we have to wait for similar tragedy before the international community starts to address the threat of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East seriously and without discrimination?”, he asked.  All Arab countries had written to the Secretary-General on their commitment to establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, he said, calling on those countries within the region that had not yet done so, as well as the permanent Council members, to follow suit.

ABDALLAH YAHYA A. AL-MOUALLIMI ( Saudi Arabia) said Israel continued to dash hopes for a just and lasting peace that would give birth to a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders and with Al-Quds al-Sharif as its capital.  It continued to flout the will of the international community through its expansion of settlements and its blockade of Gaza.  Its coercive policies deprived Palestinians of their right to live in dignity and freedom, he said, emphasizing that attempts to hold Palestinians responsible for creating tensions were unacceptable.  “Occupation is the crux of the matter,” he stressed, deploring the attacks against al-Aqsa mosque and attempts to change the historical and religious identify of holy places.  Settlement activities were not in line with the two-State solution, yet Israel’s Prime Minister had stated in 2013 that they would not stop.  Noting that the Arab League had outlined the need to abide by the Arab Peace Initiative, he called on the United States to compel Israel to halt settlements and lift the Gaza blockade.  Israel’s occupation of the Syrian Golan, including the Shebba farms, must also end.

Turning to Syria, he said the authorities there had subjected their own people to genocide through the use of chemical and other non-conventional weapons, as well as barrel bombs.  Since witnesses from Syria had revealed to the Council the terrorist practices used against them, how could the 15-member body not adopt a statement deploring the gravest violations of international humanitarian law?  Emphasizing the need for foreign combatants to leave Syrian territory, he urged States with influence on the regime to pressure it to stop its pogroms.  The Council must adopt a resolution on the delivery of humanitarian assistance to all parties, wherever they may be, and impose sanctions against those impeding it.  As for the Geneva II Conference, he said those invited must agree to the invitation’s prerequisites and officially declare their acceptance of the need to establish a transitional government.  Inviting Iran was “out of the question”, because its soldiers supported the Syrian regime, thereby making its participation “invalid”, he said.

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA ( Brazil) said his country had consistently advocated for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and supported a Syrian-led political process.  The presence in Brazil of a vibrant community of Syrian origin only increased its interest in peace, and an agreed transition that would halt the violence was still possible.  Brazil looked forward to the beginning of a process that would lead to a transitional governing body with full executive powers.  The outcome of the Geneva II Conference must build upon the Geneva communiqué, and all relevant stakeholders must be allowed to participate, he said, expressing support for the participation of Syrian women in the Conference and the entire political process.  On Lebanon, he said Brazil was deeply concerned about increasing instability there, including the recent terrorist bombing that had killed a Brazilian citizen in Beirut.  He welcomed the opening of the Hariri trial and expressed support for Lebanon’s disassociation from the Syrian conflict.  Condemning the attacks in Iraq’s Anbar Province, he called on authorities there to attack the root causes of the conflict.  Brazil welcomed the resumption of direct final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but expressed regret that Israel had announced further settlement-building plans, and that renewed rocket fire had been launched from Gaza.

MOHAMMED LOULICHKI ( Morocco) said that the King, as President of the Al-Quds Committee, had restated the Al-Quds Committee’s leading role in support of the cause of Jerusalem.  It had also restated the importance of dealing with any action that contravened peace and strengthened the occupation.  Expressing great confidence in Secretary of State Kerry’s efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, he cautioned that there was little chance for success while Israel failed to respect Palestinian rights and opted instead to continue its settlement-building policies.  Israel must be responsible and adopt a serious attitude towards negotiations.  Expressing solidarity with the Syrian people, he said his country had set up a hospital to help refugees.  Morocco was ready to help launch a dynamic process that would end the violence and lead to an enduring political solution instead, he added.

MOTOHIDE YOSHIKAWA ( Japan) said the direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine were now entering a crucial phase, with fewer than four months left to make the deal.  Calling on both parties once again not to take unilateral action contrary to that aim, he deeply deplored the decision by Israel’s Housing Ministry to build new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Given the current stage of negotiations, it was all the more important that the international community work towards Palestinian coexistence and prosperity, and to step up humanitarian assistance efforts on the ground.  He said Japan had announced an additional contribution of $120 million at the second Pledging Conference for Syria in Kuwait, bringing its total assistance to $275 million.  However, humanitarian need was meaningless if it was not delivered to those in need, he said, demanding, in that context, that all parties, particularly the Syrian authorities, ensure immediate, safe and unhindered access to all affected areas.

MASOOD KHAN ( Pakistan) said 2014 was an important year for locking in a two-State solution, since 16 January had marked the start of the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.  The “halting” engagement between the two sides was better than a breakdown.  Pakistan supported a contiguous State of Palestine based on the 1967 borders and with Al-Quds as its capital.  The talks must produce results and both sides must avoid steps that would scuttle the negotiations.  In that context, attacks by settlers and illegal settlements must stop, and the law annexing 29 per cent of the West Bank repealed, he said, adding that the Gaza blockade must be lifted.  On Syria, he endorsed the call for all parties to allow humanitarian convoys free passage to the Yarmouk refugee camp, adding that the week’s talks must not be squandered and questions of participation should be urgently resolved.

MÓNICA BOLAÑOS PEREZ ( Guatemala) said a cessation of violence should be the first step to advancing dialogue, an indisputable premise in the Syrian conflict.  If both sides sought the welfare of their people, they must engage in a political dialogue and seek a permanent solution to their differences, including the establishment of a transitional government, she said, emphasizing that there was no alternative.  The international conference on Syria, scheduled for 22 January, opened the door for dialogue, but to seize that opportunity, the Government and opposition groups, as well as invited States must participate in a constructive manner.  On the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, she urged the parties to work positively to meet the set deadlines, stressing that international involvement, especially through the Quartet and regional actors, was essential.  She called upon both sides to avoid all actions that might endanger the ongoing discussions.

BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) said that some delegations had deliberately referred to the situation in his country in a provocative, misleading way, making false accusations that only served to support terrorism and extremism in Syria and the wider region, while diverting attention from the core matter under discussion:  ending Israel’s occupation of Arab lands.  He said he would not respond to statements by countries that supported, armed, harboured, trained and incited terrorists, and facilitated their infiltration into Syria through the borders of neighbouring States.  Such statements reinforced extremism and served to thwart any peaceful solution to the crisis, including efforts to convene the Geneva II Conference, in which the Syrian Government had agreed to participate.

The suffering of the Syrian people under occupation in the Syrian Golan had been sustained for almost half a century, he said, adding that Israeli settlement activity continued in the area.  Syrians there were subjected to hideous policies of suppression, racial discrimination, detention, torture and deprivation of their natural resources.  They could not enter Israeli hospitals without an Israeli identity card, and Israel prevented the Syrian Arab Red Crescent from working in the Golan or setting up clinics there.  The Israeli occupying Power had full responsibility for the consequences of its aid to terrorist groups in the area of separation, which endangered the lives of United Nations forces, kidnapping and firing upon peacekeepers, he said.

He went on to recall that Syria had requested a formal investigation by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations into collusion on the part of Qatari intelligence in the kidnapping of Filipino peacekeepers, but the Department had failed to present its findings, if any.  Some powerful States irresponsibly lent support to enable Israel continue its policies of aggression and its occupation of Arab lands while turning a blind eye to Council resolutions on the matter, he said.  The international community could not remain silent about the Organization’s failure to shoulder its historical and legal responsibilities in that regard, including for the implementation of resolution 497 (1981) on ending Israel’s occupation of the Syrian Golan.  Member States must force Israel to comply with that resolution in order to end the occupation, he said, emphasizing that some Member States must stop presenting pretexts and excuses on Israel’s behalf.

PALITHA KOHONA ( Sri Lanka) said 2014 would be a critical year for the Middle East, and expressed hope that the launch of the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People would see growing support for Palestinian statehood.  Peace negotiations must be conducted expeditiously and in line with international law, with General Assembly and Security Council resolutions.  Failure to reach a peace accord could bring serious violence with tragic consequences, he warned, emphasizing that settlement activity, illegal under international law, must end.  The blockade of Gaza also obstructed the peace process, while recent floods that had displaced some 10,000 people had inflicted extra misery.  Furthermore, there was an urgent need to lift restrictions on the import of essential foods, medicines and construction materials into Gaza.

DESRA PERCAYA (Indonesia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said that despite trepidation in the Middle East, there was hope among all those who cared about peace that progress could be made this year.  Welcoming efforts by the United States to convince both parties to move towards a lasting solution, he noted with dismay Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights, especially through the destruction of water infrastructure during military operations, which denied Palestinians access to clean water.  He demanded that Israel take measures to prevent settlers from attacking Palestinians.

HUSSEIN HANIFF (Malaysia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and OIC, reiterated his country’s commitment to a two-State solution, based on the 4 June 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.  The parties must live up to their obligations under the Arab Peace Initiative, the Oslo Accords, the Quartet road map, the Madrid Terms of Reference and Security Council resolutions, he said.  The efforts of the United States had been met with ridicule by Israel, and such intransigence would lead to the failure of the talks, which already appeared one-sided against Palestine, he noted.  Condemning Israel’s announcement of new settlement plans, he said he was also gravely concerned about the situation in Gaza, calling for an immediate end to the blockade.  As for Syria, he said all parties must ensure that humanitarian assistance was provided to those in need, urging an inclusive, Syrian-led political solution.  Whether in the Palestinian-Israeli talks, the streets of Beirut or the Geneva II negotiating table, the voices of moderation must prevail, he stressed.

KAHLED KHIARI (Tunisia), endorsing the statements by Djibouti on behalf of OIC, and Iran on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, reaffirmed the right of Palestinians to freedom and dignity since 1967, in accordance with the land-for-peace principle and the Madrid agreements.  He also expressed support for the negotiations under way between the Palestinians and Israelis, intended to enable both sides to enjoy their rights in full while resolving final status issues.  Israel was responsible for the obstacles to peace, including the construction of settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, he said, also condemning Israel’s repeated acts of aggression and practices aimed at changing the very identity of Jerusalem.  The international community, including the United States and other Quartet members, should persuade Israel to end such practices and new settlement construction so that the historic opportunity presented by the negotiations was not lost.  Reiterating  support for the Geneva II Conference and for an outcome that would support all Syrians and end the violence, he said those responsible for using chemical weapons must be brought to justice.

LEVENT ELER ( Turkey), expressing support for the ongoing talks between Israel and the Palestinians, said the parties must refrain from actions that would undermine the negotiations.  Releasing prisoners while announcing new settlement-building at the same time was not helpful if the parties were sincere about the process, he noted.  The International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People should be one in which everyone mobilized political and economic support for Palestine.  An economically and politically strong Palestine would be a stronger partner for Israel and the entire region.  Turkey would continue doing its part to alleviate the difficulties of the Palestinians through various multilateral and bilateral projects, he said, recalling that it had recently transferred $850,000 to UNRWA for fuel generation.

Describing the upcoming Geneva II Conference as a source of optimism, he said the grim reality inside Syria was just as important.  The recent escalating attacks in Aleppo were extremely worrying and must end.  There was also a need for an immediate end to the hostilities and violence, and for immediate implementation of the 2 October presidential statement.  Reports on the access granted for humanitarian convoys to enter the Yarmouk refugee camp was only partially comforting, because hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons still had not yet been reached.  During their 17 January meeting in Sanhurfa, the Governments of Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey, as well as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), had appealed once again for the international community to boost solidarity with countries in the region hosting most of the Syrian refugees.  It was unacceptable that the first benchmark for eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons had not been fulfilled, he said.  Given its legitimate security and environmental concerns, Turkey would continue to monitor closely the timetable devised by the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  In response to a statement by another speaker, he said Turkey would resolutely stand by the Syrian people and continue its humanitarian aid to them.

SHEIKH MESHAL HAMAD M.J. AL-THANI ( Qatar), noting that Palestine remained the substantive question for Arabs, reiterated her delegation’s support for the Arab Peace Initiative to achieve a comprehensive peace in the region.  Any agreement should stem from an end to the occupation and the attainment of self-determination.  It was crucial that Israel refrain from threatening the establishment of an independent, viable and independent Palestinian State, she said, reiterating that Israeli “fait accompli” practices carried consequences.  Palestinians must be able to enjoy their inalienable rights, she said, emphasizing also the need for Palestinian national reconciliation on the basis of the Doha and Cairo agreements.  Turning to Syria, she said the regime there had committed war crimes, notably by using chemical weapons.  The regime also continued its indiscriminate bombardment of civilians and its campaign of dropping barrel bombs.  The number of barrel bomb victims now exceeded those killed by chemical weapons, she said, adding that the regime also pursued policies of starvation.  Syrian refugees were flooding into Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, among other neighbouring States, she said, adding that they must be provided with international assistance.

THOMAS MAYR-HARTING, Head of the European Union Delegation, commended the Syrian Coalition’s decision to participate in the upcoming conference, but said he remained gravely concerned about the continuing bloodshed.  Strongly condemning the regime’s escalating and indiscriminate attacks using Scud missiles, barrel bombs, air and artillery strikes and brutality on the ground, notably in Aleppo.  The regime “bears the primary responsibility for the conflict and its actions on the ground are undermining the potential for genuine political transition and fuelling extremism”, he said, noting that the latter threatened Syria’s territorial integrity, as well as regional and international security.  All efforts must be channelled towards rebuilding the country and ridding it of its authoritarian past.  An inclusive peace process, including through the active engagement of women, was vital.

He said the Council, with its strong defence of human rights, should consider referring the situation to the International Criminal Court.  Humanitarian assistance and access “cannot, and should not, be held hostage to military tactics and political negotiations”, he said, calling on the parties to the conflict immediately to implement the Council’s presidential statement of 2 October 2013.  The European Union would continue to support those countries hosting Syrian refugees, he said.  It called for the transfer and destruction of chemicals from Syria, and for all foreign fighters in the country, including Hizbullah, to withdraw immediately.  Regarding the Middle East peace process, he said the European Union would provide an “unprecedented package” of political, economic and security support to both parties in the context of a final status agreement.

RODOLFO REYES RODRIGUEZ ( Cuba) urged the Council to adopt measures that would compel Israel to end its aggression against the Palestinians.  “There will be no peace in the Middle East as long as these aggressions persist,” he said, expressing support for the General Assembly’s historic decision to grant Palestine the status of a non-member observer State.  The Council must now approve Palestine’s 2011 request to be recognized as a United Nations Member State.  Urging Israel to comply with international law and end its occupation of all Arab territories, he said an end to its colonizing policy, the release of Palestinian prisoners and the lifting of the Gaza blockade would allow a political process that would bring peace to the region.  As for Syria, Cuba rejected attempts to turn the alleged protection of human lives into a pretext for foreign intervention, whether directly or through support for irregular armed groups.  He rejected the promotion of regime change in Syria, reiterating his delegation’s support for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

PENDAPALA NAANDA ( Namibia) said Israel’s systematic aggression against Palestine was the main political problem in the Middle East.  Its illegal settlement campaign gravely undermined the integrity of the State of Palestine and threatened the two-State solution based on pre-1967 borders.  Israeli settlement activity was based on “an illegal colonizing” policy, while its blockade of Gaza restricted access for much-needed goods.  Overall, Israeli occupation severely affected the socioeconomic well-being of the Palestinians, and its continuing flagrant contempt for international law demanded urgent attention and responsible action by the international community, he stressed.  As a country that had ensured similar legal occupation by South Africa’s apartheid regime, Namibia consistently extended its steadfast support to the Palestinian people, he said, urging the Council to adopt practical measures to end Israeli abuses and illegal policies.  “It is incomprehensible that the question of Palestine remains a permanent agenda item on the Council’s work programme,” he declared.

KADRA AHMED HASSAN (Djibouti), speaking on behalf of OIC, underlined the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, as Israel continued its colonization of Palestinian land, including through settler terror, arrests and detentions, and the collective punishment of Gaza.  Settlement activity was the core challenge to genuine progress, and the international community must address it since the settlements undermined the territorial integrity, viability and contiguity of a future Palestinian State.  Despite United Nations resolutions, Israel continued to defy the international community by creating de facto realities on the ground aimed at altering the Arab character, status and demographic composition of occupied East Jerusalem, she said, adding that constant incitement by Israelis extremists at holy sites was illegal and risked fuelling religious conflict.  OIC reaffirmed the permanent responsibility of the United Nations for the question of Palestine until all aspects were justly and fully resolved, she emphasized.

GEIR O. PEDERSEN ( Norway) said that with the approach of important milestones in the Middle East conflicts, now was the time to push for real diplomatic progress.  The Geneva II Conference was long overdue, he said, adding that there was no military solution to the Syrian conflict and that pouring more weapons into it would only prolong human suffering.  “The logic of peace must replace the logic of war.”  Urging both sides to embark on the challenging process of reaching agreement on a Syrian-led transition, he said the international community must come together in demanding an end to the conflict, as it had done regarding the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.  The humanitarian challenge was enormous, and while the recent pledging conference had been encouraging, it was not enough, he said.  It was also time for Palestinians and Israelis to end their conflict, and the present opportunity must not be squandered.  Compromise required duly addressing and meeting the core needs of both sides.  For one thing, settlement activities must stop, he emphasized, saying Norway was also deeply concerned about the Gaza blockade and insisted that Israel lift it.

MOHAMMED KHAZAEE (Iran) speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the Movement remained seriously concerned about the situation in Palestine due to Israel’s continuing illegal policies.  Its settlement activity and settler violence, confiscation of Palestinian land, blockade of Gaza, military raids and arrests continued unabated, exacerbating conditions on the ground and reinforcing doubts about Israel’s true commitment to a just, final peace with the State of Palestine.  In particular, the Movement remained extremely alarmed over escalating aggression in occupied East Jerusalem, especially in and around Al-Haram al-Sharif and the Al-Aqsa Mosque due to provocations by Israeli extremists.  Israeli Government officials continued recklessly to fuel religious tensions by encouraging the extremists, he noted, saying that such serious matters threatened international peace and security, and calling for action to halt the incitement.

He went on to reiterate the Movement’s serious concern over Israel’s killing of civilians in violent military raids, its excessive use of force against civilian protestors and its forced displacement of civilians.  Despite having released long-held Palestinian prisoners, Israel continued almost daily to arrest Palestinian civilians, he pointed out, adding that more than 5,000 Palestinians remained in Israeli jails.  The Movement also condemned Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza and urged the international community to continue calling on its Government to end it immediately, and to ensure accountability.  On Lebanon, he said Council resolution 1701 (2006) must be implemented in such a way as to set the foundations of stability and security, and to prevent Israel’s daily violations of Lebanese sovereignty.  The Movement condemned, as well, Israeli measures to alter the legal, physical and demographic status of the occupied Syrian Golan, and demanded that it abide by all relevant Council resolutions.

Speaking in his national capacity, he said that, during the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the international community should pressure Israel to end its aggressive, expansionist policies and non-compliance with international law.  The Council should compel the occupying Power to withdraw from all Palestinian and other Arab territories.  The Council’s continued inaction would only lead to more atrocities by Israel — the only country in the region in possession of all types of weapons of mass destruction, but which was not a party to any treaty banning them.  Israel should be compelled to accede to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons without further delay or preconditions, he stressed.

He recalled that, over the past several months, there had been an increase in foreign-backed terrorist attacks in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.  They had targeted hospitals, schools, religious sites and diplomatic premises, claiming hundreds of lives, including one diplomat at the Iranian embassy in Beirut.  Two days ago, another Iranian diplomat had been martyred during a terrorist attack in Yemen.  Such events illustrated the timeliness of the General Assembly’s adoption in December of a resolution, proposed by Iran, rejecting violent extremism and promoting moderation and tolerance.  The international community’s recent strong support for the Iraqi Government’s efforts against terrorist groups should be extended to Syria by including the question of “combating terrorism” on the agenda of the Geneva II Conference, he said.

JEREMIAH NYAMANE KINGSLEY MAMABOLO ( South Africa) said the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were a “promising sign”, as they had ended the paralysis that had plagued the peace process for years.  The parties must now make tough decisions in the weeks ahead.  South Africa identified with the struggle of the Palestinians for self-determination and supported their legitimate pursuit of an independent State, he said.  The solution to the conflict could be found only through peaceful, fair negotiations, conducted in an environment free from fear and violence.  Israel’s settlement-building was the main obstacle to progress, and could impede the two-State solution, he said, calling for continuing confidence-building measures.  As for Syria, South Africa fully supported United Nations efforts to find a political solution, he said, reiterating that there was no military solution to the conflict.

ABDOU SALAM DIALLO ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, called on all parties to create an appropriate climate for productive negotiations.  With the April deadline approaching, however, Israel’s actions on the ground, particularly settlement expansion, were undermining prospects, he said.  Noting the announcements of thousands of new settlements since the talks began in July 2013, he said the 144 scattered throughout the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and connected by roads built for the exclusive use of settlers, were totally inconsistent with the two-State solution and undermined Palestinian trust in the seriousness of Israel’s intent to achieve it.  Settlement activities were also in grave breach of international law, he said, asking the Council to uphold its resolutions, including resolution 446 (1979), which determined that settlements had no legal validity.  Also troubling were the recent tensions along the Gaza-Israeli border — both the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, and the Israeli airstrikes on the enclave, which could undermine the fragile ceasefire, he said.

FRANCIS ASSISI CHULLIKATT, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said courageous decisions were seldom easy and sometimes politically difficult and unpopular.  Yet, when it came to conflict in the Middle East, all right-minded people saw the need for change.  Peace was not simply the absence of war; it required that demands for justice be met by all peoples and communities.  The Holy See hoped that the re-engagement in direct, serious and concrete negotiations would reinvigorate the peace process.  Welcoming the recent agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, he said it offered “great hopes” that an era of distrust might be replaced by a climate of trust and cooperation.  The situation in Syria had prompted Pope Francis to renew the Holy See’s “profound solicitude” for the situation in the whole region, he said, expressing hope that the Geneva II Conference would offer a new start for that nation, “left prey to indescribable destruction and loss of lives”.  An immediate ceasefire, “without procrastinations or political conditions” was vital, as was the need for funding and an immediate roll-out of humanitarian assistance and reconstruction.

MOHAMED ALI ALHAKIM ( Iraq) urged all States to cooperate with his country in the fight against terrorism.  Indeed, “terrorism has no religion, or State or boundaries”, he said.  Israel’s settlement policies, separation wall, seizure of new Palestinian land and the Gaza blockade would only escalate tension in the Middle East, he said, welcoming efforts by the United States to encourage both sides to reach a two-State solution.  Iraq held Israel responsible for the non-implementation of the Security Council’s resolutions.  As for Syria, he welcomed efforts to destroy its chemical weapons, and, noting that his country shared a long border with Syria, said that Iraq would help to ensure the success of the Geneva II Conference on the humanitarian and political levels.  Iraq hosted more than a quarter of a million Syrians in dire need of assistance, he added.

ASOKE MUKERJI ( India) expressed regret over Israel’s recent announcement of new settlements.  The humanitarian situation in Gaza was also worrying, as the blockade not only had adverse effects on the population there, but also drove militant elements to vent their frustration.  That, in turn, complicated the situation and heightened Israel’s vulnerability.  India supported Palestine’s nation-building efforts through technical and economic assistance, he said.  In 2012, it had pledged $10 million in budgetary support, and signed three memorandums of understanding for information and communications technology projects, vocational training and school construction.  In September 2013, India had contributed $1 million to UNRWA for food and medicines.  It welcomed the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons and hoped the 30 June deadline would be met.  India had recently offered $1 million to the trust fund set up for that purpose, he said, adding that it had also offered expert services for destruction-verification activities and for staff training in that effort.

KAIRAT ABDRAKHMANOV (Kazakhstan), associating himself with OIC, said that support for full Palestinian membership in the United Nations had been a strategic goal during his country’s 2012 chairmanship of that organization.  As for Syria, Kazakhstan had supported from the start all opportunities to find a mutually acceptable peace formula.  The conflict had impacted the security and multiethnic diversity of Lebanon, he said, welcoming support in strengthening the rule of law and ending impunity for that country.  Kazakhstan supported a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on international law, including relevant Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.  It recognized the right of the Palestinians to self-determination, and to an independent Palestinian State within the 1967 borders, coexisting peacefully with Israel.

YURIY SERGEYEV ( Ukraine) said Israel’s release of the third group of Palestinian prisoners in late 2013 was a positive sign.  Ukraine understood Israel’s security concerns, as well as the need for continued socioeconomic assistance to the Palestinians.  Ukraine had also repeatedly expressed its concern over the situation in Syria, he said, emphasizing that, in the short term, it was most important that the Geneva II Conference succeed.  Appealing to all parties to overcome their differences that had hindered a settlement of the Syrian question within the Council, he called on the parties, particularly the opposition groups, to provide unhindered humanitarian access.  He also expressed concern over the lack of unity within the opposition camp and urged it to take part in the Geneva II Conference, stressing that the only possible solution was an inclusive political dialogue.

The representative of Israel took the floor a second time saying that Arab and other members of the Non-Aligned Movement had criticized his country, but chose to ignore the crimes committed by its Chair, Iran, at their own peril.  Israel was surprised that the Movement had shown the nerve to lecture Israel on human rights, while Iran and Syria — both members of the Movement — were the world’s worst human rights abusers.  Freedom of expression was repressed in Iran, where minorities were persecuted and women denied their basic rights.  The regime executed more people than any other around the world, and Iran had also provided financial, logistical and other support to the President of Syria while sending Hizbullah to kill civilians.

He went on to say that he was astonished that Iran had spoken about non-compliance with Security Council resolutions while Syria bombed schools, killing children, while complaining in the Council about Israel’s school curricula.  Syria’s accusations about the 1974 agreement were baseless as it systematically violated that accord, while Israel handed out humanitarian aid to the Golan population, including injured soldiers and other residents.  Just two weeks ago, Israel had medically treated an injured Syrian soldier army who had come to the border seeking help, he said.

In response to comments by another speaker about the situation in Gaza, he said there was no blockade.  “All humanitarian aid entering Gaza comes from Israel,” he said, emphasizing that Gaza had an additional entry point.  Responding to comments by Malaysia’s delegate, he said Israel was a thriving multicultural democracy in which all religions were tolerated.  By contrast, Malaysia’s human rights violations included torture, to say nothing of the Government’s curtailment of religious expression.

The representative of Syria, responding to that statement, said Israel was responsible for many slaughters, having occupied Arab territories for more than 60 years.  It had committed the worst crimes against civilians in the Syrian Golan, Lebanon and Palestine.  For Israel to claim regret over the situation in Syria was an attempt to deflect attention from its occupation of the Syrian Golan since 1967, he said.  Israel was responsible for the humiliation, slaughter and expulsion of Syrian citizens, flouting all international resolutions.  The assistance to which Israel’s representative had referred, which he had put in a humanitarian context, must not deceive anyone, he stressed.  Israel continued to allow terrorists to work in the area of separation and to continue to perpetrate terrorist acts.

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For information media • not an official record