|IV. MIDDLE-EAST PEACE OPERATIONS|
Golan Heights - UNDOF
The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) continued to monitor the 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria and the disengagement of the two countries’ respective forces in the Golan Heights, with the cooperation of the parties. The ceasefire in the Israel-Syria sector was maintained with two exceptions: a shooting incident in January, west of the ceasefire line in the southern section of UNDOF’s area of operation, and an Israeli air strike northwest of Damascus in October.
At the end of the year, the Secretary-General observed that despite the present quiet in the Israel-Syria sector, the situation in the Middle East was very tense and likely to remain so, unless and until a comprehensive settlement covering all aspects of the Middle East problem was reached. In the prevailing circumstances, he considered the continued presence of UNDOF in the area to be essential.
Lebanon - UNIFIL
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) remained focused on maintaining the ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon through observation from fixed positions as well as mobile and air patrols along the Blue Line1 between the two countries. The Force also liased with the parties to resolve incidents and prevent their escalation.
Tensions remained high during the year, and there were continuing violations of the Blue Line by both sides. The year started with a grave breach of the ceasefire in the Shab’a farms area when Hizbollah fired mortar rounds at an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) patrol across the Blue Line on 21 January. The IDF retaliated with artillery and mortar fire as well as aerial bombs. Sporadic Israeli violations of Lebanese air space continued, drawing retaliatory anti-aircraft fire from Hizbollah into populated northern Israeli villages. On several occasions, UNIFIL recorded that Hizbollah fire was not preceded by the required Israeli overflights.
The Security Council repeatedly urged the parties to end these violations. It also called on the Government of Lebanon to continue taking steps to extend its control over the south, including through the deployment of its armed forces.
In southern Lebanon, collaboration between the United Nations, the Government of Lebanon and various donors made possible dramatic progress in demining efforts. The Mine Action Coordination Centre—which is jointly managed by the United Nations, the Lebanese national demining office and the United Arab Emirates—was able to coordinate the clearance of over 4.8 million square meters of mined area in southern Lebanon, including more than 55,000 anti-personnel mines, some 1,600 anti-tank mines and 4,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance. Notwithstanding this progress, the presence of a large number of minefields in the UNIFIL area of operation remained a matter of serious concern.
United Nations Truce Supervision Organization - UNTSO
Set up in 1948, the United Nations Supervision Organization (UNTSO) is the Organization’s oldest peacekeeping mission. For almost six decades it has monitored ceasefires, supervised armistice agreements, prevented isolated incidents from escalating and assisted other United Nations peacekeeping operations in the region. Throughout the year, UNTSO military observers assisted and cooperated with UNDOF in the Golan Heights in the Israel-Syria sector and UNIFIL in the Israel-Lebanon sector. Military observers were also present in Sinai, in the Egypt-Israel sector. In addition to its headquarters in Jerusalem, UNTSO maintained offices in Beirut and Damascus.
MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator - UNSCO
Based in Gaza, the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East (UNSCO) continued to be the focal point in the region for United Nations contributions to support the Middle East peace process and the implementation of peace agreements. The Special Coordinator participated in numerous meetings with the parties to the peace process and the wider international community.
Road map to a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
After almost three years of violence and confrontation, new hope for the resumption of the stalled Middle East peace process emerged when a road map to a permanent two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was formally presented to the parties on 30 April by the diplomatic Quartet—the United Nations, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United States of America.
The first steps taken by the parties to start implementing the Road Map included an Israeli agreement to withdraw its forces from parts of the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem and the declaration, in June, of a ceasefire by various Palestinian groups.
Despite these encouraging signs and the Security Council’s renewed appeals to the parties to implement the Road Map, the cycle of violence, retaliation and revenge resumed, resulting in substantial loss of life and destruction. Consequently, the implementation of the Road Map was frozen, and some positive steps reversed. In a climate of increasing violence, the Secretary-General repeatedly condemned the suicide bombings against Israel and the continued violence from both sides and called on the parties to return to peaceful negotiations according to the Quartet's Road Map.
Tensions also increased in reaction to the acceleration of the construction of a separation wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around Jerusalem, which divides Palestinian communities and families and could seal off Jerusalem from the West Bank. Convened in an emergency session to consider the matter in October, the United Nations General Assembly demanded that Israel stop and reverse the construction of the barrier. A similar demand had been previously vetoed by the United States in the Security Council.
The deteriorating security environment as well as the limited access to the Gaza Strip hampered the United Nations efforts to address the growing humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian territory. However, the extensive relief system managed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) continued its activities to support health, education, relief and social services.
1 The “Blue Line” corresponds to the UN-brokered delineation of the Israel-Lebanon border behind which Israeli forces withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000.