MORE VIGOROUS INTERNATIONAL ENGAGEMENT CRUCIAL TO ENDING MIDDLE EAST VIOLENCE, UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL STRESSES IN BRIEFING TO SECURITY COUNCIL

22 October 2004
SC/8222

MORE VIGOROUS INTERNATIONAL ENGAGEMENT CRUCIAL TO ENDING MIDDLE EAST VIOLENCE, UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL STRESSES IN BRIEFING TO SECURITY COUNCIL

22/10/2004
Press ReleaseSC/8222

Security Council

5060th Meeting (AM)

more vigorous international engagement crucial to ending middle east violence,

Under-Secretary-General stresses in briefing to Security Council

Parties Cannot Succeed if Left to Themselves,

He Says, Citing Drift, Foreboding, Pessimism about Prospects for Peace

Calling for a more vigorous international engagement in the Middle East as an indispensable ingredient in ending the violence and bringing fresh hope for peace, Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Security Council this morning that he had painfully little that was positive to report on the situation and much that was negative.

Briefing the Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, he said it had been heard from many quarters that the time had come for a renewed peace effort, but that the parties to the conflict could not succeed if left to themselves.  Violence, not negotiation, continued to be the all-too-frequent mode of communication, and there was a palpable sense of drift and foreboding.  That stemmed from an equally pervasive sense of pessimism about the prospects for peace, coupled with frustration because the basis of a settlement –- the two-State solution -– was well established and enjoyed strong support among both the Israeli and Palestinian publics.

Describing the statistics as staggering, he said that since his last briefing to the Council, just over a month ago, 206 Palestinians and 13 Israelis had been killed, and approximately 1,033 Palestinians and 62 Israelis injured.  The number of Palestinians killed since September 2000 was now 3,839, and that of Israelis totalled 979.  An estimated 36,433 Palestinians and 6,297 Israelis had been injured since the eruption of the intifada.

Even to speak in terms of a peace process seemed to put one at a distance from present reality, he said.  Yet the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians could be settled only through negotiations between the parties, in the continued absence of which the Road Map offered the only way forward.  Its implementation would help both parties to find their way back to the negotiating table.

However, he said, the Israeli Government had still not implemented its obligation to dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001 and to impose a settlement freeze, including natural growth, in full consistency with the Road Map and the Mitchell Report.  He called on Israel to meet its obligations under international law and the Road Map.

For its part, he said, the Palestinian Authority needed to take genuine, determined and sustained action to ensure that an empowered Prime Minister and cabinet could fulfil Palestinian obligations under the Road Map, particularly in regard to ending violence and terrorism and reforming its security forces.  He reiterated the call on President Yasser Arafat to move forward with the much-needed reforms.

The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and adjourned at 10:38 a.m.

Detailed Briefing Summary

KIERAN PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said it was painful to have to say yet again that there had been little positive and much that was negative to report to the Council this month.  Violence, not negotiation, continued to be the all-too-frequent mode of communication in the Middle East.  There was a palpable sense of drift and foreboding; in the case of the occupied Palestinian territory, of drift towards chaos.  Neither side was fulfilling its obligations under the Road Map.

He said that the major Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip had resulted in the deaths of large numbers of Palestinians, including civilians and children.  The Secretary-General had expressed his deep concern over those deaths and had reminded Israel that it must act in keeping with its obligations under international humanitarian law.  The terrorist attacks at Taba, Egypt, on the evening of 7 October had been breaches of the peace in a place hitherto known as a haven for coexistence and tourism.  The casualties reflected the diversity of nationalities mingling at Taba –- at least 13 Israelis, six Egyptians, and six Russian and Italian tourists killed in the triple bombing.

Since his last briefing to the Council just over a month ago, he noted, 206 Palestinians and 13 Israelis had been killed, and approximately 1,033 Palestinians and 62 Israelis injured.  The number of Palestinians killed since September 2000 was now 3,839.  A total of 979 Israelis had been killed over the same period.  An estimated 36,433 Palestinians and 6,297 Israelis had been injured since the eruption of the intifada.  Those staggering statistics ought to give everyone food for thought.  Was there not a better way? he asked.

Violence in and around the Gaza Strip had escalated sharply during the reporting period, he said.  On 29 September, Qassam rockets fired from Gaza at the town of Sderot inside Israel had killed two children aged two and four.  Throughout the past month, Palestinian militants had continued to fire Qassam rockets at Sderot, causing minor injuries, as well as damage to homes and infrastructure.  The Palestinian Authority must make all efforts to stop such attacks against Israeli civilians.  In that context, on 30 September, Israel had launched a major military operation in the northern Gaza Strip.

Recalling that a large contingent of Israeli troops had entered Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun, and the Jabaliya refugee camp, he said that on 30 September alone, at least 35 Palestinians had been killed.  Seventy-two Palestinians, ranging in age from 10 to 60, had been wounded by gunfire in the Jabaliya camp that day, according to hospital officials.  By 15 October, when Israeli troops started redeploying, 135 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza, 114 of them in the northern part of the Strip.  Some 512 Palestinians had been injured, 431 of them in northern Gaza.  During the operation, on average, eight Palestinians were killed every day and 30 injured.  Many of the victims had been civilians, a number of them children –- at least 34 children had been reported dead by 15 October.

He said that approximately 170 children aged 18 or under had been injured.  On 5 October, a 13-year-old girl had died, close to her school, hit by 20 bullets.  On 12 October, an 11-year-old Palestinian girl had been shot and mortally injured in a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), in an incident reminiscent of last month’s events when a 10-year-old girl had been shot in an UNRWA school classroom, also dying later from her injuries.  He reiterated his call on the Government of Israel to respect its legal obligations to ensure the safety of Palestinian civilians and to refrain from the disproportionate use of force.

He said he also continued to be gravely concerned at the extensive destruction of civilian property, infrastructure and agricultural land in the northern Gaza Strip during the operation.  Such destruction raised, yet again, concerns about collective punishment and helped to fuel the bloodshed.  Israel had carried out a number of targeted assassinations over the past month, and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem estimated that even before those latest extrajudicial killings, more than 150 militants had been killed in targeted assassinations by Israel since September 2000.  More than 100 bystanders had been killed in such strikes.  He repeated his call on the Government of Israel to halt immediately the illegal practice of extrajudicial killings and to refrain from such use of force in densely populated areas, where there was a high risk of so-called collateral damage.

At the same time, he urged the Palestinian Authority to take decisive steps to quell the terror emanating from territory under its control.  On 22 September, two Israeli border policemen had been killed and some 15 Israelis wounded when an 18-year-old suicide bomber detonated her explosives at a busy stop in northern Jerusalem.  The Palestinian Authority must bring to justice those implicated in terrorist attacks and fulfil its obligations under the Road Map, as well as under international law, to do its utmost to prevent such attacks.  Over the past month, there had been further violence and bloodshed in the West Bank, as well.  Of particular concern had been the growing number of violent acts committed by Israeli settlers.  He called on the Israeli Government to exert its legal authority over Israeli settlers and bring to justice those who committed crimes against Palestinians and civilians from third countries.

United Nations agencies continued to be severely affected in their operations by Israeli restrictions on movement, he said.  During the reporting period, UNRWA had been forced to suspend many of its normal operations, including the resumption of much-needed emergency food aid in the Gaza Strip.  With few exceptions, since 21 September, Israeli forces had denied United Nations personnel secure and unimpeded access into Gaza, hindering the effective delivery of humanitarian aid.  He reiterated his call on the Israeli Government to guarantee United Nations personnel freedom of movement and to ensure unrestricted access and free movement of humanitarian goods and personnel into and throughout the Gaza Strip.

Noting that Palestinian civilians suffered most under the movement restrictions, he said that the full closure imposed by the Israeli authorities on the West Bank and Gaza Strip on 8 September for the Jewish high holidays remained in effect today, with no Palestinian movement at all between the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel.  In addition, Palestinian men between 16 and 35 years of age continued to be forbidden to use the Rafah terminal to Egypt –- the only passage for Gazans needing to travel outside the Gaza Strip -– even if they had medical documentation referring them for necessary treatment abroad.

He said that the Palestinian economy remained in tatters, and that since its revitalization was crucial for the future, that remained a primary concern of the donor community, which was planning to meet later this year to discuss how best to support that economy.  Movement restrictions had increased substantially during 2004, and unemployment remained high both in Gaza and the West Bank.  Poverty was predicted to rise further, while food security, health standards, quality of water and sanitation and education standards had all deteriorated.

Israel continued its policies of demolishing houses, with 166 homes destroyed since the last briefing, and of confiscating and/or levelling Palestinian land for the construction of the barrier, he said.  That construction had continued, especially around Jerusalem.  He reiterated his call on Israel to abide by its legal obligations as set forth in the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice and General Assembly resolution ES-10/15, which had acknowledged the opinion and demanded that Israel comply with its legal obligations.

He said that the Secretary-General would, within the week, send to the Assembly President a letter outlining the structure and planned activities of the register of damages caused by the construction of the barrier, as called for in resolution ES-10/15.  His aim would be to establish, as soon as possible, a body that would be able to examine requests and eligibility for registration, as well as to verify the facts and extent of damage and of the causal link between the construction of the barrier and the damage sustained.

Even to speak in terms of a peace process seemed to put one at a distance from present reality, he said.  Yet, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians could be settled only through negotiations between the parties.  In the continued absence of such negotiations, the Road Map offered the only way forward.  Implementation of the Road Map would help both parties to find their way back to the negotiating table at long last.

“Here too I can offer no comfort to the Council”, he said.  The Israeli Government had still not implemented its obligation to dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001 and to impose a settlement freeze, including natural growth, in full consistency with the Road Map and the Mitchell Report.  That lack of action was a cause for concern.  During 2002 and 2003, West Bank and Gaza Strip settlements received at least twice as much financial aid from the Israeli Interior Ministry as did other Jewish communities.  His concerns that the Government’s lack of action to freeze settlements were intensified by reports that the first settlement outpost in the Gaza Strip had been recently established, and that the number of new apartments sold in the West Bank and Gaza Strip had risen by more than 20 per cent in the first seven months of 2004, compared to the same period during 2003.  He called on Israel to meet her obligations under international law and the Road Map.

For its part, the Palestinian Authority needed to take genuine, determined and sustained action to ensure that an empowered Prime Minister and cabinet could fulfil Palestinian obligations under the Road Map, in particular as regards an end to violence and terrorism and the reform of security forces.  Internal unrest continued in the occupied Palestinian territory.  On 12 October, Military Intelligence Chief Moussa Arafat had escaped unharmed from a car bombing against his convoy in Gaza.  On 18 October, six security officials had been injured.  The growing number of incidents indicated that militants were increasingly bold in challenging the Palestinian Authority.

Reiterating the call on President Arafat to move forward on the implementation of much-needed reforms, he said reform was needed not only in the security services, but also in other fields where reform legislation was awaiting approval by the President.  In that context, he continued to support the steps to prepare for Palestinian elections.  The voter registration effort had recently ended, after having been extended due to low voter turnout and Israeli military operations.  By 13 October, a total of some 64.7 per cent of eligible voters in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, not including East Jerusalem, had registered.

Regrettably, Israeli movement restrictions had prevented the Central Election Commission from bringing the completed registration rolls from Gaza to its headquarters in the West Bank safely and without interference, he said.  He urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to cooperate towards the goal of conducting a free and credible electoral process.

At the convening of the Knesset for its winter session, Prime Minister Sharon had stated that Israel adhered to its support of the Road Map.  He hoped that that unequivocal statement and not earlier reported remarks with very different connotations represented Israeli policy.  Mr. Sharon’s withdrawal initiative was now scheduled to enter the legislative process in the Knesset on 25 October, with the first reading of the related bill on the compensation package of evacuated settlers to follow on 3 November.

The manner and context in which the Israeli pullout from Gaza and the northern West Bank took place were extremely important, he said.  Withdrawal from Gaza should be full and complete and should be undertaken in a matter consistent with the Road Map.  If those requirements were met, withdrawal could be a useful step towards an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967, by means of direct negotiations between the parties leading to the goal of two States, Israel and a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.  That remained the goal.  He urged the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to coordinate closely on preparation and implementation of the withdrawal initiative.

Turning to the situation in southern Lebanon, he said a relative calm had prevailed along the Blue Line for just over three months.  The only serious violations during the period had come in the form of Israeli overflights.  He called on the Government of Israel to cease violations of the Blue Line. 

Despite the overall calm, certain events had served as a reminder of the continuing potential for instability, he said.  Within the area of operation of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), on 9 September, according to Lebanese security sources, unidentified armed elements fired one rocket from the Yaroun valley area in the general direction of Israel.  The rocket, which had apparently malfunctioned, had landed well on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line.  Lebanese authorities had arrested the armed elements in question, who were reported to have had another two rockets in their possession.  He commended the quick action by Lebanon’s Government and urged it to exert full control over the use of force on its entire territory, and to prevent all attacks from Lebanon across the Blue Line.

He said he regretted to report again that no progress had been achieved on the Syrian-Israeli track.  President Bashar al-Assad had stated on a number of occasions that he stood ready to re-engage in peace negotiations with Israel.  Little had come of those openings.  The resumption and completion of peace negotiations between Israel and Syria and the implementation of resolutions 242 and 338 were indispensable ingredients of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

At the start of the briefing, he said, he had spoken of a “palpable sense of drift and foreboding”.  That stemmed from an equally pervasive sense of pessimism about the prospects in the Middle East, coupled with frustration because the basis of a settlement –- the two-State solution –- was well established and enjoyed strong support among both the Israeli and Palestinian publics.  One heard from many quarters that the time had come for a renewed commitment and effort, but that the parties could not succeed if left to themselves.  The international community’s more vigorous engagement was, therefore, an indispensable ingredient for ending the violence and bringing fresh hope of peace in the Middle East.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.