BRIEFING SECURITY COUNCIL, UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL CALLS FOR END TO VIOLENT ACTS BY ISRAELIS, PALESTINIANS

21 June 2006
SC/8760

BRIEFING SECURITY COUNCIL, UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL CALLS FOR END TO VIOLENT ACTS BY ISRAELIS, PALESTINIANS

21 June 2006
Security Council
SC/8760
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5472nd Meeting (AM)

BRIEFING SECURITY COUNCIL, UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL CALLS

 

FOR END TO VIOLENT ACTS BY ISRAELIS, PALESTINIANS

 

Underscores Need for Israel to Cease Targeted Killings; Reiterates

Quartet’s Call for Decisive Action by Palestinian Authority Against Terrorism

Urging the cessation of all acts of violence, both among Palestinians and in the conflict between them and Israel, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, detailed for the Security Council today the very volatile situation overall during the past month in the Middle East, expressing particular distress at the killing of so many Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

Briefing the 15-member body, Mr. Gambari said that at least 64 Palestinians had been killed, including at least 11 children, in the reporting period, and at least 328 Palestinians had been injured, including many children.  Forty-nine of those killed and 259 of those injured had been the victims of Israeli-Palestinian violence.  The rest had been casualties of intra-Palestinian violence.  One Israeli had been killed and 18 injured in Israeli-Palestinian violence.

During the month-long reporting period, Israel had stepped up its policy of targeted killings of militants and shelling of areas in Gaza, and its ground troops had entered the Gaza Strip for the first time since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, killing five Palestinians.  He added that, on 9 June, an explosion on a beach in Gaza, at the time of an Israeli operation involving the firing of sea- and land-based weapons in the immediate area, had killed seven civilians, all members of the same family.  The Palestinian Authority held Israel responsible for the killings, but an investigation by the Israeli Defence Force had subsequently concluded that Israeli military fire had not been responsible.  A prominent human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, had disputed that finding, however, and the Israeli investigation into the cause of the explosion was continuing.

Underscoring the need for Israel to cease targeted killings, Mr. Gambari said that the Secretary-General believed that Israeli actions should be proportionate and in accordance with international humanitarian law.

Also during the reporting period, the United Nations had recorded 176 rockets fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza towards Israeli territory, he continued.  Some of those had hit Israeli towns and cities, injuring five civilians and damaging private property and Government buildings, including a school.  For the first time in well over a year, Hamas had claimed responsibility for rockets launched at Israel.  Hamas appeared not to have continued those operations in recent days, and there had been statements indicating preparedness to resume the ceasefire.  However, other militants continued to fire rockets at Israel on a daily basis.

He stressed that the Secretary-General had repeatedly called on the Palestinian Authority to heed the Quartet’s call and meet its Road Map obligations to act decisively against terrorism, including acting to end indiscriminate rocket attacks that endangered Israeli civilians.

Infighting between Hamas and Fatah, deadly clashes and factional tensions since Hamas won the election in January had this month led to the killing of local leaders and claimed the lives of many bystanders, including women and children, Mr. Gambari noted.  Several violent protests had also taken place in Gaza and the West Bank, involving rival factions and civil servants angry at not receiving salary payments.  With efforts now under way to broker a compromise on power-sharing, the Under-Secretary-General encouraged all Palestinian parties to “leave no stone unturned” in ensuring the harmonious and coherent operation of security forces, and to achieve consensus on a political programme that responded to the Palestinian peoples’ desire for a peacefully negotiated two-State solution.

There had also been a significant outbreak of violence across the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, he said, including 19 Israeli air violations of the Line (not counting the seven that occurred on 28 May, during the exchange of fire), with some deep into Lebanese territory.  Senior United Nations representatives on the ground had intervened with the parties and worked in unison to bring about a ceasefire.  The Secretary-General called for maximum restraint, while commending both the Governments of Israel and Lebanon for avoiding a further escalation.  The situation along the Blue Line had remained calm since the 28 May incidents, but its sudden deterioration had underscored the critical importance for the Government of Lebanon to exert all efforts to expand its effective authority over all of its territory and control the use of force.

The meeting began at 10:11 a.m. and ended at 10:32 a.m.

Summary of Briefing

IBRAHIM GAMBARI, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that the past month had seen heightened tension and increasing violence, both among Palestinians and in the conflict between them and Israel.  That violence had taken a particularly severe toll on Palestinian civilians in Gaza.  There had also been a significant outbreak of violence across the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel.  Despite continuing violence, there had been a few positive steps taken to deescalate what remained a very volatile situation overall.

He said that all acts of violence, especially those that either endangered or targeted civilians, must cease, and negotiations towards a comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict must not be further delayed.  On 10 June, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had called for a referendum to be held on 26 July on the “Covenant for National Reconciliation”, agreed by Palestinian prisoners.  President Abbas had indicated that his decree did not preclude the possibility of consensus being reached at any time before the referendum date, in which case, the referendum would not proceed.  During earlier discussions, most Palestinian factions other than Hamas and Islamic Jihad had expressed support for the prisoners’ document.  The Palestinian Authority Government had indicated its concern about aspects of the document, disputed the legality and desirability of a referendum, and had called for a dialogue without deadlines.  Progress had been reported, however, in narrowing differences on the issues in dispute in recent days.

In the last week or so, the security situation in the streets had calmed somewhat, following consultations between President Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, he said.  Those consultations had concluded with an announcement that the special force recently created by the Minister of the Interior should be absorbed into the payroll of the Palestinian Authority, after its members received proper police training.  The force had not yet been fully withdrawn from the streets of Gaza, but was less visible than before.  He continued to encourage all Palestinian parties to “leave no stone unturned” in efforts to ensure the harmonious and coherent operation of security forces, and to achieve consensus on a political programme that responded to the Palestinian peoples’ desire for a peacefully negotiated two-State solution.

Meanwhile, he continued, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had met with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and several European countries in the past month.  The Prime Minister had reiterated his desire to meet with President Abbas in the coming period and, indeed, it appeared they might have an opportunity tomorrow, in Petra.  However, he had also stressed that the Palestinian Authority Government must meet the Quartet’s three principles, and that there was a finite period of time for the pursuit of negotiations.  Prime Minister Olmert had indicated his determination to proceed with the implementation of his “realignment plan”, the details of which had not yet been made public.  He looked forward to the Prime Minister’s meeting with President Abbas as an important step towards resuming negotiations, which remained the best way to promote peace.

Regarding security and violence, he said that at least 64 Palestinians had been killed, including at least 11 children, in the reporting period, and at least 328 Palestinians had been injured, including many children.  Forty-nine of those killed and 259 of those injured had been the victims of Israeli-Palestinian violence.  The rest had been casualties of intra-Palestinian violence.  One Israeli had been killed and 18 injured in Israeli-Palestinian violence.

He said that Israel had stepped up its policy of targeted killings of militants and shelling of areas in Gaza, from which rockets continued to be fired at Israeli territory.  On 29 May, for the first time since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, Israeli ground troops had entered the Gaza Strip, killing five Palestinians.  On 8 June, an Israeli air strike in Gaza had killed the commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, Jama Abu Samhadana, together with four other alleged militants.  On 13 June, two consecutive Israeli missile strikes had been fired on a car allegedly transporting rockets to be fired at Israel, resulting in the deaths of three Islamic Jihad operatives, but also killing bystanders in a crowded Gaza street.  The Secretary-General was particularly disturbed that, despite his prior expressions of concern, that pattern had been repeated yesterday, when three children had been killed and a number of bystanders injured, during another attempted killing by Israel, also in a crowded Gaza neighbourhood.

Once again, he underscored the need for Israel to cease targeted killings, which continued to claim civilian lives.  It was the Secretary-General’s view that Israeli actions should be proportionate and in accordance with international humanitarian law.  On 9 June, an explosion on a beach in Gaza, at the time of an Israeli operation involving the firing of sea- and land-based weapons in the immediate area, had killed seven civilians, all members of the same family.  The Palestinian Authority held Israel responsible for the killings.  An investigation by the Israeli Defence Force had subsequently concluded that Israeli military fire had not been responsible for the deaths.  A prominent human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, had disputed that finding.  The Israeli investigation was continuing, in order to ascertain the cause of the explosion.

Also during the reporting period, the United Nations had recorded 176 rockets fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza towards Israeli territory, he continued.  Some of those had hit Israeli towns and cities, injuring five civilians and damaging private property and Government buildings, including a school.  For the first time in well over a year, Hamas had claimed responsibility for rockets launched at Israel.  Hamas appeared not to have continued those operations in recent days, and there had been statements indicating preparedness to resume the ceasefire.  However, other militants continued to fire rockets at Israel on a daily basis.  The Secretary-General had repeatedly called on the Palestinian Authority to heed the Quartet’s call and meet its Road Map obligations to act decisively against terrorism, including acting to end indiscriminate rocket attacks that endangered Israeli civilians.

Clashes between militias loyal to Hamas and Fatah had led to the killing of local leaders and claimed the lives of many bystanders, including women and children, he said.  Several violent protests had also taken place in Gaza and the West Bank, involving rival factions and civil servants angry at not receiving salary payments.  The headquarters of Preventive Security in Gaza and the offices of the Parliament and the Council of Ministers in Ramallah had been ransacked.  Tensions had eased somewhat following last week’s developments.

Turning to the fiscal and humanitarian situation, he said that the Palestinian Authority’s fiscal crisis had not abated.  According to the International Monetary Fund, Palestinian Authority revenues in April amounted to $35 million, or one-sixth of its monthly requirement.  The continued non-transfer of Palestinian VAT and custom revenues collected by Israel remained the major impediment to fiscal stability.  There had been reports, however, of large amounts of cash being brought into Gaza by Palestinian Authority officials and Hamas members.  The Palestinian Authority had made one salary payment to 10,000 of its lowest paid workers through its treasury account in June.  In addition, a further 90,000 employees had received, on Monday, 19 June, about $300 in advances from the Palestinian Authority, using cash brought by officials and disbursed through local post offices.  The remaining staff, approximately 40,000 people, have received no salaries since February.

He said that delivery of some Palestinian Authority services had been interrupted.  The Ministry of Social Affairs had been unable to make cash payments to 47,000 people facing particular hardship.  Also, the main Gaza hospital had been forced to halve the number of surgeries for three weeks, due to shortages of essential medicines.  Normal surgeries had now resumed, following an intervention by the humanitarian organization CARE.  The Government of Israel’s plan to spend $11 million of the Palestinian value added tax (VAT) and customs tax on medicines for the Palestinian Authority had not been realized.

The economy was also experiencing decline, he said.  Palestinian gross domestic product (GDP) had fallen by 7 per cent in the first quarter of 2006.  Gaza was being hit harder than the West Bank by the current crisis, as almost 40 per cent of those employed in Gaza worked for the Palestinian Authority.  Unemployment in Gaza had risen by 6 percentage points to 34 per cent in the first quarter of the year, prompted partly by a total moratorium on Gaza workers crossing into Israel.  There were many reports of people selling possessions or going without food staples, such as meat, in order to subsist.

Unless arrested, continued economic decline, as forecast by the World Bank, combined with a degradation of public services, would have significant humanitarian impact and might also have longer-term consequences on prospects for peace and security.  As long as the Palestinian Authority was unable to fully cover institutional costs, services would deteriorate and many Palestinian Authority staff might be forced to find alternative sources of income, if the fiscal crisis continued.  The departure of qualified staff would result in immediate and long-term damage to administration and service delivery.

He said that the Secretary-General was pleased that the Quartet had endorsed, on 17 June, a temporary international mechanism developed by the European Union, to facilitate needs-based assistance directly to the Palestinian people, including:  essential equipment, supplies and support for health services; support for the uninterrupted supply of fuels and utilities; and allowances to poor Palestinians.  For his part, the Secretary-General looked to donors, other international organizations, and Israel -- bearing in mind its responsibilities -- to support the mechanism, so that it could become operational quickly and effectively.

On movement and access, he said that, due to increasingly strict Israeli security measures, United Nations national staff had not been able to pass through the Erez crossing to and from Gaza since February, while new measures were increasingly impeding international staff movements, as well.  Movement of United Nations personnel, particularly of national staff, had also been more difficult this year between Jerusalem, where most United Nations organizations had their headquarters, and the rest of the West Bank, where aid was needed.  The United Nations had continued to raise those concerns with the Israeli authorities, with little sign of improvement to date.

The movement of humanitarian and commercial goods to the Gaza Strip had improved somewhat since the end of May, with export figures rising to 21 truckloads per day after 22 May, he reported.  Import figures for May indicated that an average of about 250 truckloads per day had been shipped to the Gaza Strip, allowing for the replenishment of basic food stocks near depletion.  Hopefully, that that trend would continue.  Even with the improvement, organizations such as United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the World Food Programme (WFP) still faced significant cost increases of approximately $120,000 per month, as a result of long delays in returning empty containers from the Gaza Strip to the Ashdod port.

Israeli settlement activities had continued, despite the Road Map and recent Quartet expressions of concern, he went on.  According to a report by the Israeli non-governmental organization Peace Now, approximately 3,000 units were currently under construction in the West Bank, while construction of a police station in the E-1 area between Jerusalem and Ma-ale Adumim was continuing.

Barrier construction had also continued, despite the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, he noted.  On 23 May, the Israeli High Court of Justice had approved the route of the section of barrier in Jerusalem that passed between Ma’ale Adumim and the village of el-Azariyeh.  On 15 June, the Israeli High Court had ordered the dismantling of 5 kilometres of the barrier east of the settlement of Tzofin.  According to the court, during earlier hearings, the State had concealed the fact that the existing route had been determined partly by a master plan for expanding the settlement, and not solely by security considerations. The Minister of Defence had reportedly ordered a review of the route of the barrier, so as to reduce its impact on Palestinian daily life.

Turning to Lebanon, he said there had been several worrying developments there.  On 26 May, a senior member of Islamic Jihad and his brother had been killed in an explosion in the southern city of Sidon.  The Lebanese Government had alleged that Israel had been responsible for that explosion; Israel had denied that.  Two days later, in the early morning of 28 May, rockets had been launched from Southern Lebanon by unidentified armed elements, against an Israel Defence Forces position 8 kilometres south of the Blue Line, wounding one Israeli soldier.  Israeli jets had responded by bombing PFLP-General Command positions in the Beka’a valley and in Na-ameh, south of Beirut, reportedly killing one PFLP-General Command member and wounding several others.  That same afternoon, unidentified sniper fire from the Lebanese side of the Line had wounded one Israeli soldier.  Israel had responded with air strikes against Hizbollah positions across Southern Lebanon, killing one of its members and wounding two Lebanese civilians.  Hizbollah had responded with rocket, missile, mortar and small arms fire.

He said that senior United Nations representatives on the ground had intervened with the parties, and worked in unison to bring about a ceasefire.  The Secretary-General had called for maximum restraint, while commending both the Governments of Israel and Lebanon for avoiding a further escalation.  The situation along the Blue Line had remained calm since the 28 May incidents.

The sudden deterioration, however, underscored the critical importance for the Government of Lebanon to exert all efforts to expand its effective authority over all of its territory and control the use of force, in order to prevention Blue Line violations, he went on.  There had been 19 Israeli air violations of the Line (not counting the seven that had occurred on 28 May during the exchange of fire), with some deep into Lebanese territory.  The Israeli authorities should halt those air violations and respect the Blue Line. 

On 1 June, the commission charged with developing proposals for the reform of the electoral law had submitted its recommendations to Prime Minister Siniora, he said.  That had been a first step towards electoral reform, a main priority of the Lebanese Government.  The Department of Political Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) continued their support for the peace process.

He said that the eighth round of the Lebanese National Dialogue had convened on 8 June.  Discussion had continued on a national defence strategy for Lebanon, with new proposals being brought to the table for consideration.  Lebanese leaders had also discussed measures to reduce the level of political tension in the country, following the demonstrations in Beirut on 1 and 2 June.  He commended Lebanon’s leaders for that initiative, which, again, illustrated the benefits of a dialogue to address issues of national concern.

Having reporting in detail the “serious deteriorations on the ground” during the past month in the Middle East, he stressed that the United Nations was particularly disturbed at the killing of so many Palestinian civilians in Gaza.  He reiterated the Secretary-General’s repeated calls for respect of international law, so that civilians were neither targeted nor put at grave and foreseeable risk.  Restraint by all parties was all the more important, given the “faint rays of hope” that had been observed in recent days.  The intra-Palestinian agreement on integrating the special forces into the Palestinian Authority payroll, the efforts to narrow differences in the Palestinian national dialogue and the decisions of the parties not to escalate to levels that might be difficult to pull back from, were all worth noting, although that must be tempered with an awareness that violence continued.

He said that the positive signal sent by the Quartet’s decision last weekend to channel assistance to the Palestinian people, which he hoped would be rapidly supported and implemented by all concerned, gave added weight to domestic Palestinian voices calling for restraint and dialogue.  He hoped that those voices would be heard and heeded in the interest of peace, security and the well-being of the people in the region.

It was vital that the Israeli and Palestinian leaders continued their efforts to pave the way for meaningful negotiations, he emphasized.  In that respect, he took heart from the fact that opinion polls continued to underscore the desire of both peoples for a two-State solution, and for that goal to be achieved peacefully and through negotiations.  The United Nations would continue to work with its partners towards that goal, as there was no alternative.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.