Other UN peace operations in the Middle East
Based in Gaza, with duty stations in Jerusalem and Ramallah and a mandate covering Israel, the occupied Palestinian territory, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) is the focal point in the region for UN support to peace initiatives and for the co-ordination of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. 2006 began with expectations faltering that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza would usher in a period in which the parties would return to the negotiating table and work towards the implementation of the Road Map, with its vision of a two State solution. On 4 January, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was hospitalized following a serious stroke, and on 25 January Hamas swept to power in free and fair Palestinian legislative elections. Despite UNSCO’s continued strive for dialogue between the parties, the only meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in 2006 was a courtesy encounter on the margins of a gathering in Jordan. On the ground in Gaza and the West Bank, there was continued fighting and instability, with Palestinian militants firing rockets from Gaza into Israel and Israel conducting ground and air incursions into Gaza. A large number of civilians were killed and infrastructure destroyed as a result of the escalation of violence. 70 per cent of Palestinians currently live below the poverty threshold and unemployment rates are soaring. Economic hardship has been compounded by Israel’s refusal to handover customs and tax it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority under international agreements. Meanwhile, in spite of calls by the Quartet – the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia – for Israel to desist, settlement construction has continued as has work on the barrier. UNSCO has repeatedly warned that this would prejudice the outcome of Final Status negotiations. UN agencies continue to monitor these developments and their impact on the lives of Palestinians.
The United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) was established to monitor ceasefire lines negotiated after the 1948 conflict between Israel and its neighbours. UNTSO has evolved with the changing dynamics of the region including five major wars, subsequent ceasefires, and two peace treaties. To fulfill its current peacekeeping requirements,UNTSO provides unarmed military observers – hailing from 23 troop contributing countries – to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). UNTSO military observers provide daily contact with local communities and their leaders along the Blue Line in Lebanon and with military commanders and deployed forces on either side of the ceasefire line in the Golan Heights. With the outbreak of war between Israel and Hezbollah in July, UNTSO personnel maintained their positions at their patrol bases to fulfill their mandate requirements. Four UNTSO observers were killed when an Israeli bomb struck their patrol base near Khiyam, Lebanon. After two weeks on the line reporting on the activity of both parties,UNTSO personnel relocated to their headquarters in Tyre.Within days of the UN-brokered ceasefire, they were back at their patrol bases providing support to UNIFIL.
Established in 1974 following the agreed disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces on the Golan Heights, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) is tasked with supervising the implementation of the accord and maintaining the ceasefire.The force consists of 1,025 troops hailing from Austria, Canada, India, Japan, Nepal, Poland and Slovakia.When renewing its mandate in December, the Security Council echoed the Secretary-General’s statement that UNDOF’s continued presence is “essential” given that the situation in the region is tense and “is likely to remain so, unless and until a comprehensive settlement covering all aspects of the Middle East problem can be reached”.
The UN assistance role in Lebanon was growing even before war erupted in Lebanon and Israel over the summer of 2006, bringing a new set of political, peacekeeping, humanitarian and development challenges. The Office of the Personal Representative of the Secretary- General for Lebanon (OPRSG) proved to be an invaluable set of eyes and ears in Beirut, and a key instrument in the UN’s diplomacy for peace. Relying on contacts with all of the key actors in the country, Geir Pedersen, the Personal Representative, and his team played a role in forging the cessation of hostilities that permitted the deployment of the expanded peacekeeping force. The office continued at year’s end to promote needed dialogue between the country’s political forces.
Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.
© United Nations 2007