MAJOR, POSITIVE POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS TOWARDS MIDDLE EAST PEACE COULD BE THREATENED BY RECENT VIOLENCE, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

25 April 2007
SC/9004

MAJOR, POSITIVE POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS TOWARDS MIDDLE EAST PEACE COULD BE THREATENED BY RECENT VIOLENCE, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

25 April 2007
Security Council
SC/9004
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5667th Meeting* (AM)

MAJOR, POSITIVE POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS TOWARDS MIDDLE EAST PEACE

COULD BE THREATENED BY RECENT VIOLENCE, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Briefs Council

While the long-stalled Middle East peace process was beginning to stir, with both Israel and Arab States showing interest in holding talks, the top United Nations political official told the Security Council today that forward momentum could be threatened in the wake of the sharp escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence in the West Bank and Gaza.

“Leaders on both sides must do their utmost to prevent this latest upsurge of violence from escalating any further,” said the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, in an open briefing to the Security Council.  “It is incumbent on the parties and all regional and international players to show restraint and to intensify their efforts to bring about immediate progress on the ground, and to promote, as a minimum, the political will for the parties to discuss their future together.”

Touching first on major political developments, he noted the swearing in of the Palestinian National Unity Government on 17 March, and the 15 April meeting in Jerusalem between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, during which the two had discussed immediate humanitarian and security issues, as well as efforts to build confidence through actions on security reforms.

He also highlighted the reactivation last week of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative at the Arab League Summit in Riyadh, which had also established working groups to engage international partners and Israel.  But, despite those and other positive political developments, he was “deeply concerned at the overall situation on the ground”.  During the reporting period, at least 43 Palestinians had been killed, 22 in intra-Palestinian fighting and 21 by the Israel Defense Forces, while over 200 Palestinians and at least 13 Israelis had been injured.

He said United Nations agencies had reported that the bulk of the fatalities and injuries from 14 March through 17 April were attributed to 83 incidents involving Palestinian factional fighting or family feuding, and 69 incidents involving the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinians.  He also expressed “deep concern” about the kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston, and reiterated Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call for his safety and immediate release.  He went on to say that the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit was also crucial to forward movement.

At the same time, the Israeli Government must also play its part to calm the situation, in particular regarding the Israeli settler community.  In Hebron, attacks on Palestinian children and a mentally disabled Palestinian man, carried out by groups of Israeli settlers, had been widely reported.  Likewise, the Israeli Government must ensure that measures for Israeli security were not at the expense of innocent Palestinians; all security measures must be proportionate.  Further, , despite provisions in the Road Map calling for a settlement freeze, construction of new housing units was taking place in some 75 of the 121 settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Turning to the situation in Lebanon, he said that the Secretary-General had recently been there encouraging dialogue to resolve the political impasse.  Intensive efforts to ease the political situation ahead of the Arab League Summit had helped to reduce tension, but had not produced any breakthroughs concerning a national unity Government or a special tribunal that would, among other things, look into the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In closing, he told the Council that, while it was clear that the situation in the region was fragile, there were a number of elements at play, which, taken together, could generate forward movement.  The Secretary-General was committed to nurturing those elements in close collaboration with his Quartet partners.  At the same time, he was increasingly concerned that actions and inaction on the ground remained the real obstacles to progress, and had the potential to lead to paralysis or even rapid deterioration.

The Observer of Palestine said that, despite efforts by Arab nations, the new Palestinian National Unity Government and members of the diplomatic Quartet to revive the peace process and resume direct negotiations for a just, peaceful resolution, Israel continued to carry out illegal policies and practices aimed at sustaining its nearly 40-year occupation.  While everyone else talked about peace, Israel’s colonization campaign and military aggression against the Palestinian civilian population continued.

Israel continued to impose frequent closures on the Palestinian Territory as a whole, subjecting, in particular, the Rafah crossing in the Gaza Strip -- the only point of entry and exit for Palestinian civilians in Gaza -- to repeated and arbitrary closures.  Such actions had worsened Gaza’s dire humanitarian situation, where people were largely dependent on food aid, and more than 70 per cent lived in poverty, further fuelling frustrations and tensions among the imprisoned civilian population.

But, there was still a window of opportunity, he said.  Palestinians and other Arabs were seizing it to move forward.  Among other things, the Unity Government, comprising all political groups, including Hamas, had mandated President Abbas to negotiate a just, final peace settlement with Israel.  That historic opportunity should not be lost.

Israel’s representative said that, while he had been heartened and encouraged by the statement of the Council members who had recognized the changes on the ground and the opportunity for progress, he had been distressed by the sense of “déjà vu all over again” after hearing the statement of the Palestinian Observer.  Among other things, speaking of Gaza as if it were a “massive prison” simply ignored the fact that Israel had left the area two years ago and it had been the Palestinians that had turned it into an incubator of terrorism and extremism and a launch pad to fire rockets into Israel, the very next day.

He said that, yesterday, Hamas, by its own account, had launched 28 Qassam rockets and 61 mortar shells at Israel.  Those attacks, on the day Israel marked its independence, had been “nothing short of a severe provocation”.  Hamas had also declared the Gaza ceasefire null and void.  Since the ceasefire had begun in November 2006, Israel had continued to exercise restraint to the more than 200 rockets fired at it by Palestinian terrorists.   Israel always reserved the right to defend itself and its people, in line with the United Nations Charter, and would do so if the attacks did not stop.

“If there are still any sceptics out there; yesterday, the Hamas-led Palestinian Government showed its true colours,” he said, adding that Israel needed no further evidence to know that the ways of Hamas were not the ways of peace.  “Hamas has shown that it will not stop its campaign of terror until its unholy ambition of destroying Israel is fulfilled,” he said.

On Lebanon, he said that resolution 1701 (2006) had been unequivocal in its demands for the disarming of Hizbollah, for an end to arms transfers to Hizbollah terrorists and for the immediate and unconditional release of Israeli soldiers.  Finally, he said that Israel yearned to live in peace with all its neighbours.  Though Israel knew that those efforts could be strengthened by moderates in the region, it also knew that no one could “make peace for our neighbours”.  It was up to the parties themselves to show the courage to face down extremists and embrace their responsibilities.

Lebanon’s representative said that the historic opportunity provided by the recent Arab League Summit, which had also called for an international conference on the Middle East and had urged the diplomatic Quartet to relaunch the peace process on all tracks, must be seized to ensure peace, security and stability in the region.  Concerning her own country, she said the Government was committed to the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006).  It would abide by its obligations and looked forward to a permanent ceasefire that would guarantee Lebanon’s stability and security.

However, Israel’s repeated overflights of Lebanese airspace, continued occupation of the northern town of Ghajar and continued detention of Lebanese citizens were all violations of international law.  Lebanon had taken a series of measures to curb illegal arms activities, including the deployment of more than 8,000 troops on its eastern and northern frontiers with Syria.   Lebanon was also cooperating with Germany on a pilot project to improve border security. 

Kim Howells, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, said the international community must demonstrate its commitment to a future Palestinian State and to Israel’s security.  It could send a strong message of support for a viable Palestinian State by improving the capacity of Palestinian institutions and facilitating coordination of assistance to the Palestinians in the short term to improve their daily lives.  While the Temporary International Mechanism continued to channel humanitarian assistance, he called on Israel to release Palestinian tax revenues. 

He supported Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s intention to normalize the opening of the Karni and Rafah border crossings and ease other restrictions on movement, which would help improve the Palestinian’s lives and boost confidence between the parties.  He also called for the immediate release of Israeli Corporal Shalit and for a halt to the firing of Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel.  He expressed hope that the security plan presented by Palestinian President Abbas to the Israeli Prime Minister would be put into effect and would improve security.  He thanked all those who supported the United Kingdom’s call for the release of British journalist Alan Johnston, saying that his continued detention was unacceptable.

Also speaking today were the representatives of the United States, Congo, France, South Africa, Ghana, Qatar, Slovakia, Peru, Belgium, China, Panama, Italy, Russian Federation, Indonesia and Syria.

The meeting began at 10:21 a.m. and suspended at 1:30 p.m.

Background

The Security Council met this morning to hold its regular briefing on the situation in the Middle East by the Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs.

Briefing by Under-Secretary-General

B. LYNN PASCOE, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that, since his last briefing, political and diplomatic initiatives aimed at rejuvenating peacemaking in the Middle East had continued to evolve in “a mostly positive fashion”.  At the same time, he stressed that any forward momentum was being threatened by the deteriorating security situation on the ground, especially the continued violence experienced by both Israelis and Palestinians.  “Leaders on both sides must do their utmost to prevent this latest upsurge of violence form escalating any further,” he said.

Touching first on recent major political developments, he noted that, after being approved by an 83 to 3 vote in the Legislative Council, the Palestinian National Unity Government had been sworn in on 17 March, in accordance with the programme agreed at Mecca.  The diplomatic Quartet, reiterating its respect for the agreement and for Palestinian democracy, had encouraged continued progress, while indicating its intention to assess the Government’s commitment, not only by its platform and composition, but also by its actions.  He said that President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had met in Jerusalem on 15 April and had discussed immediate humanitarian and security issues, including efforts to build confidence through action on security reform and implementation of the Agreement on Movement.  The two had also reportedly exchanged views on aspects of a future Palestinian State and a time frame for achieving it, and had agreed to meet again soon.

He also highlighted the reaffirmation of the Arab Peace Initiative at the Arab League Summit in mid-April, which had established working groups to engage international partners and Israel, and had created greater public awareness of the Initiative.  But, he reiterated, despite those and other positive political developments, he was “deeply concerned at the overall situation on the ground”.  During the reporting period, at least 43 Palestinians had been killed, 22 in intra-Palestinian fighting and 21 by the Israel Defense Forces, while over 200 Palestinians and at least 13 Israelis had been injured.  According to United Nations reports, the bulk of the fatalities and injuries from 14 March through 17 April were attributed to 83 incidents involving Palestinian factional fighting or family feuding, and 69 incidents involving the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinians.

In addition, he said that other United Nations figures had shown that, on 14 March and 17 April, 54 rockets and mortars had been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel.  Prime Minister Olmert had noted last week that there had been a significant drop in the rate of rocket fire since mid-April, which appeared to be the result of continuing efforts by President Abbas, with various factions.  However, last weekend, Israel had carried out a number of arrest raids into West Bank cities, during which nine Palestinians had been killed, and a rocket hit the town of Sderot, underlining the dangers those attacks posed.  On the morning of 24 April, Israel had reported that over 24 rockets and mortars had been fired from Gaza.  The military wing of Hamas had claimed responsibility. The Palestinian Government, however, had called for the ceasefire to be respected and for the Israeli Government to exercise restraint.

He said that Israeli officials continued to express concern about alleged smuggling of weapons between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, as well as a reported increase in the payload and range of rockets that were fired from Gaza into Israel.  He added that the efforts of the Egyptian Government in that regard to maintain the ceasefire and halt the rocket fire were greatly appreciated.  The lack of substantial improvement in the security situation was a matter of great concern, and the obstacles to achieving progress had recently led to the new Palestinian Minister of the Interior to offer his resignation.  It was important that the Palestinian Authority acted to counter smuggling of weapons and rocket fire against Israel, as well as take steps to implement the internal security plan endorsed by the Palestinian Cabinet to restore law and order. “This is not only the overwhelming desire of Palestinians, but also vital for continued international engagement in Gaza,” he said.

To that end, his office remained deeply concerned about the kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston, and would reiterate the Secretary-General’s call for his safety and immediate release.  The United Nations had also been greatly alarmed when a vehicle carrying the Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had come under heavy fire in mid-March.  Those and other incidents, including attacks on Internet cafes, other businesses and the American school in Gaza, had led the United Nations to take further mitigating measures to ensure staff security.

He went on to say that the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit was also crucial to forward movement and, to that end, he noted reports that some proposals for prisoner exchanges had been discussed, and Prime Minister Olmert had recently said publicly that he was open to a “reasonable exchange” for Mr. Shalit.  At the same time, the Israeli Government must also play its part to calm the situation, in particular regarding the Israeli settler community.  In Hebron, attacks on Palestinian children and a mentally disabled Palestinian man, carried out by groups of Israeli settlers, had been widely reported.  Likewise, the Israeli Government must ensure that measures for Israeli security were not at the expense of innocent Palestinians -- all security measures must be proportionate. Continued operations into Palestinian population centres in the West Bank, almost inevitably resulting in civilian casualties, were a matter of great concern.

Further, he said that, despite provisions in the Road Map calling for a settlement freeze, construction of new housing units was taking place in some 75 of the 121 settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Settlement activity had also continued on both sides of the barrier and there was major ongoing construction in Maale Adumim, Beitar Illit and Modiin Illit.  In early April, Israel’s Defence Minister had ordered the eviction of settlers who had moved into a building in central Hebron, but that order had not yet been implemented.  Despite Israel’s obligations under the Road Map, none of the additional 101 outposts in the West Bank had been removed.   Israel had also continued its construction of the separation wall in the West Bank.

On movement and access, he said that, despite commitments made by the Israeli Government to ease restrictions on movement in the West Bank, the number of physical obstacles had actually risen to a total of 547 during the reporting period, up from 529.  Among other things, he noted that, of the ultimate targets set by the Agreement on Movement and Access of 400 truckloads a day of exported goods, approximately 10 per cent were reached.  He said the targets of the Agreement must be reached if there was to be an improvement on the socio-economic situation in Gaza.  Moreover, United Nations staff and other humanitarian workers crossing from Gaza were increasingly subjected to arbitrary treatment by Israeli authorities.  Internal searches of United Nations vehicles, property and even laptop computers, conducted out of sight of United Nations staff, violated United Nations security standards, privileges and immunities.

On assistance to the Palestinian people, he said that both President Abbas and the new Palestinian Finance Minister continued to underline the precarious state of the Palestinian Authority’s finances, including with European and United States officials.  Donor Governments had been studying various options, but there would likely be a need to renew the Temporary International Mechanism beyond its current 3-month mandate.  He reminded the Council of the Quartet’s recent call for the international community to support the Mechanism, which had disbursed some $330 million to date.

Meanwhile, immediate humanitarian issues must still be addressed, he said.  United Nations agencies continued to support populations affected by a sewage spill that had killed five persons in northern Gaza on 8 April.  Longer-term measures for rehabilitating the sewage plant must be urgently implemented.  He also drew the Council’s attention to the recent visit to Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel by the Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict.  She would report on that visit in due course.

Turning to the situation in Lebanon, he said that the Secretary-General had recently been there, encouraging dialogue to resolve the political impasse.  Intensive efforts to ease the political situation ahead of the Arab League Summit had helped to reduce tension, but had not produced any breakthroughs concerning a national unity Government or a special tribunal on the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.  The Secretary-General had made Lebanon a priority during his first visit to the region and, more recently, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Nicolas Michel, had visited the country and met with political leaders of all parties to discuss the statute of a special tribunal, in order to advance its ratification in accordance with the Lebanese Constitution.  He said that the Secretary-General would continue his efforts to encourage the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions in that regard.

He said that Lebanon remained committed to moving ahead with an important programme of political and socio-economic reform, irrespective of domestic challenges.  At the recent meeting of the Core Group of Countries on Lebanon, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s Government had presented a progress report on the implementation of the reform package delivered at the Paris III conference.  That report showed the allocation of donor pledges by sector and revealed that, so far, only a small percentage of pledges had been disbursed.  On other issues, he said that the United Nations was pleased to note that, as of 10 April, the total strength of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) stood at 13,000 peacekeepers.  At the same time, Israeli air violations continued, with Israel claiming that they were necessary for security measures in the face of continued breaches of the embargo on the transfer of arms.  The Lebanese Government maintained that such acts were provocative and increased tension along the Blue Line.

Wrapping up, he said it was clear that the situation in the region was fragile.  There were a number of elements at play, which, taken together, could generate forward movement.  The Secretary-General was committed to nurturing those elements in close collaboration with his Quartet partners.  At the same time, the United Nations was increasingly concerned that actions and inaction on the ground remained the real obstacles to progress and had the potential to lead to paralysis or even rapid deterioration.

“The renewed violence of the past few days shows how precarious the situation is.  It is incumbent on the parties and all regional and international players to show restraint and to intensify their efforts to bring about immediate progress on the ground and to promote, as a minimum, the political will for the parties to discuss their future together,” he said.  Finally, he informed the Council that the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Alvaro de Soto, had informed the Secretary-General of his decision to leave the United Nations next month, after 25 years of distinguished service.

Statements

ALEJANDRO DANIEL WOLFF ( United States) expressed his firm commitment to the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security and to the Road Map as the best way to achieve that goal.  Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian President Abbas were both committed to working towards that vision.  The international community must support their efforts.  During Secretary Condoleezza Rice’s most recent visit to the region, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas had agreed to hold biweekly meetings to discuss issues pertinent to peace in the region, including security, movement and access.  They had also agreed to work on developing political cooperation.  The first meeting, held on 16 April, had been a good first, bilateral step.  It would help work towards achieving a lasting solution, improving the lives of the Palestinians and Israelis, and laying the foundation for peace in future.  The solution was a two-way street.  Palestinians must know that that a Palestinian State would be viable.  Israelis must know that a Palestinian State would not be a threat.

The posture of the Palestinian Authority Unity Government made peace difficult, he continued.  He supported the Quartet’s principles of peace, the renunciation of violence and recognition of the existence of Israel.  The Palestinians must be committed to those principles.  Only a Palestinian Authority Government that accepted those principles could fulfil Palestinian aspirations for a State of their own.  It was the responsibility of the Hamas-led Palestinian Government to prevent terror and take the necessary steps to stop attacks from within Gaza.  The latest rocket attacks and breach of ceasefire by Hamas sent the wrong message.  He called again for the long overdue release of Corporal Shalit and BBC journalist Alan Johnston.

The international community, particularly the States in the Middle East region, should help the parties succeed, he said.  He applauded the efforts of the Arab League last month and the reaffirmation of the Arab Peace Initiative.  Just as Israel and the Palestinians must clarify their commitment to peace, Arab States should clarify a political horizon for Israel.  He welcomed the 18 April meeting of the Arab League Follow-Up Committee and its work in promoting the peace process.

Turning to the situation in Lebanon, he said the United States was committed to a sovereign, democratic, prosperous Lebanon and, for that to happen, the parties must abide by their commitments under Security Council resolutions 1559 (2004), 1680 (2006) and 1701 (2006), including the release of the Israeli soldiers abducted last summer.  He expressed concern over the attacks and other events occurring since October 2004, including the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri.  Such matters must be addressed.  He remained concerned over the mounting evidence of continued shipments of arms by Hizbollah.  The presidential statement by the Security Council on 17 April indicated that the arms embargo must be enforced.  He expressed support for dispatching an independent mission to the Syrian-Lebanese border.  The support of armed militias that posed a threat to the region must end.

JUSTIN BIABOROH-IBORO ( Congo) said that the overall picture in the Middle East was one of great contrast -- there had been some significant political movement, but the situation on the ground was also still cause for concern.  He said that the revival and activation of the Arab Peace Initiative, which would in time lead to the establishment of a Palestinian State and the recognition of Israel.  He welcomed the willingness of the leadership on both sides to meet and hold dialogue on important issues.

The time for expanded dialogue was at hand, and the protagonists in the conflict should show patience and not let “this window of opportunity” close, he said.  Both sides should seriously consider a number of measures that would push the peace process forward, including stopping rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and ending construction of the separation wall. On Lebanon, he said the war-torn country was at a very critical moment. He encouraged the authorities to seek a consensual solution to the issues that were on the table, particularly in the aftermath of the crisis that had taken place last summer.

JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX ( France) said that, in recent weeks, several events of great importance had occurred that strengthened the positive developments that had been under way since the end of last year.  To that end, France had welcomed the recent formation of a Palestinian Unity Government, the revival of the Arab Peace Initiative and the continued contact between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas.  He stressed that maintaining that contact was a crucial step in identifying practical answers to the daily suffering of the Palestinian people and a legitimate resumption of the political process.

At the same time, France strongly deplored the resumption of violence in the past few days in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and condemned Israel Defense Force operations that had left nine people dead over the weekend in the West Bank and, likewise, condemned the rocket fire that continued to be aimed at Israeli territory on an almost daily basis.  He called on the two sides not to again enter into a spiral of violence and, instead, to maintain the truce reached in Gaza and to work for its rapid extension to the West Bank.  He said that the international community must also play its part by, among other ways, encouraging the National Unity Government to move quickly towards full respect for the principles of the peace process, as outlined by the Quartet. The international community must also encourage the strengthening of the momentum started at the Riyadh meeting of the League of Arab States.

BASO SANGQU ( South Africa) said it was incumbent upon the international community to support the fully inclusive and democratic Palestinian Government, and for Israel and other countries to lift the economic and political siege on the Palestinians.  Funds owed to the Palestinian National Authority and withheld by Israel, as well as other funds from the international community, were urgently needed to alleviate the socio-economic hardships of the Palestinian people and to support their institutions.  A crippling sanctions regime freezing Palestinian funding not authorized by the Security Council or the General Assembly had been imposed on only one party to the dispute.  He expressed grave concern that those sanctions were undermining the foundations of governance in a non-independent entity that, after 40 years, was still subject to military occupation, and thereby eroding the prospects of a two-State solution.

The Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a recent joint report of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), presented a bleak picture of the region’s humanitarian situation, he continued.  The report noted that “without a political resolution -- and particularly removal of restrictions on movement -- improvement in the humanitarian situation is unlikely and millions will remain dependent on assistance”.  The United Nations had to address the situation more comprehensively, instead of just addressing the occupation’s humanitarian consequences.  The latest report by John Dugard, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1976, detailed human rights abuses and discriminatory practices committed against the Palestinians, including denying Palestinians freedom of movement and other violations of the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.

Further, he expressed grave concern at the apparent lack of progress in arranging an exchange of prisoners between Israel and Palestine, noting that thousands of Palestinian political prisoners remained in Israeli jails and an Israeli soldier was being held hostage by a Palestinian faction.  Resolving the prisoner issue would help resume serious negotiations aimed at setting up a Palestinian State.  Expressing concern over the continued Israeli incursions in Nablus and Jenin, he urged Palestinians to uphold their ceasefire and Israel to immediately and unconditionally end all military incursions, acts of collective punishment and settlement expansions, and halt construction of the separation wall.  On Lebanon, he reiterated that all parties must abide by the commitments under resolution 1701 (2006) without selectivity.  Israel continued to violate Lebanese airspace and did so with impunity.  National reconciliation and representation of all confessional and ethnic groups in the Lebanese Government was essential to resolving many of Lebanon’s problems.

ALBERT FRANCIS YANKEY ( Ghana) expressed concern over the immediate and long-term ramifications of the ongoing violence in Iraq, particularly the fate of the internally displaced Iraqis and refugees.  He expressed hope that the dispute on Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme would be resolved through dialogue.  He was encouraged by renewed contact between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian President Abbas.  He called for immediately restoring the truce between Hamas and Israel, in order not to jeopardize the new opportunity for peace.  The Quartet and other influential stakeholders must take whatever steps necessary to reinforce confidence, including building bilateral initiatives, pressing for the release of all hostages and addressing grave humanitarian crises in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the refugee camps.  He reiterated Ghana’s full support for the Mecca accord brokered by Saudi Arabia to end the deeply troubling armed clashes between Fatah and Hamas.

He urged the Palestinians to try to resolve their differences through dialogue, so that they could present a peaceful, unified front to seek an independent, viable State of their own.  He welcomed the Arab Peace Initiative, which broadened the basis for a negotiated settlement to the Palestinian question.  He said he trusted that the Government of Israel would give due consideration to that peace plan, which, together with the Road Map and other existing agreements, should provide a workable framework for negotiating a just, durable peace between Israel and its neighbours.  Until the age-old conflict in the Middle East was resolved, it would continue to cast a shadow over the rest of the world.

Turning to the situation between Lebanon and Israel, he said that, in the latest report on the subject, the Secretary-General noted significant progress in implementing Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), particularly the commitments of the two countries to dialogue.  However, it was important to be mindful of the various threats to peace that had been highlighted, including Lebanon’s internal political situation, the unresolved dispute over Shebaa Farms, reported breaches of resolution 1701 by both sides and other provocative acts.  He welcomed efforts to clear the cluster bombs and unexploded ordinance that had claimed the lives of several Lebanese and injured many others.  He echoed the Secretary-General’s appeal to the two sides to abide by their commitments under resolution 1701 (2006).

JAMAL NASSER AL-BADER ( Qatar) said that the Council was meeting at a time when his delegation genuinely hoped the 15-member body’s work would be results-oriented and lead to the revival of the peace process in the Middle East.  Despite all past efforts, the Middle East region had never been more tense.  The sustained crisis and general state of affairs should not come as surprise, however, since those living in the region often witnessed the destruction of their homes and the bloodshed of innocents, which, in turn, led to frustration and despair.  The logical outcome of the situation was a deepening of the feelings of hatred that sustained the cycle of violence.

Some believed that Palestinian violence was the reason for the ongoing crisis and that ending it was the way to achieving peace, he said.  But, that approach was extremely simplistic and “could not be farther from reality”.  The root causes of the violence should be dealt with and the issue should be approached without selectivity or prejudgement.  The most efficient way to put out the fires of hatred and eliminate the major pretext used by extremists was to “restore rights to their legal owners”, he said.

Qatar believed that a lasting and comprehensive settlement was within reach, but could not be achieved without concessions.  It was only by making such concessions that the international community could ensure security and prosperity for the people of the Middle East.  His country had adopted a wide-ranging approach that called for an end to hostilities and for mitigating their impact, launching high-level diplomatic efforts at the Arab and global levels, and asking the Security Council to revive the stagnant Middle East peace process on all tracks, within previously agreed frameworks.  He stressed that preserving stability, sovereignty and security in Lebanon was central to the overall effort to achieve peace in the region.  To that end, Lebanon still needed international support to overcome the devastating effects of the latest war Israel had waged against it.  He called for an end to the near-daily violations of Lebanese airspace and for the withdrawal of Israel from the remaining occupied Lebanese territories.

DUŠAN MATULAY ( Slovakia) said he was strongly encouraged by recent efforts and concrete steps by international and regional actors to revive the peace process.  It was now necessary to move forward to promote a comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict, in general, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in particular.  The achieved results, albeit modest, were an important and positive step that should be enhanced through concrete, immediate action, including confidence-building measures.  He supported the reaffirmed Arab Peace Initiative as a major element in moving the peace process forward.  He welcomed the Arab Ministerial Committee’s recent decision to work more earnestly towards constructive dialogue between Israel and the Arab States.  The views and intentions expressed during the last visit of United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region were another positive sign that political will was growing to move the peace process forward.

The 15 April direct talks between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Abbas, and their commitment to meet regularly were instrumental in solving many complex issues, he said.  He expressed hope that such talks would lead to sustainable solutions and meaningful negotiations on the final status and an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.  That required full implementation of all relevant Security Council resolutions and the principles defined by the Quartet and the Road Map.  He expressed concern over the economic and humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza.  He welcomed the three-month extension of the Temporary International Mechanism in order to channel resources and deliver assistance to the Palestinians.  He urged Israel to resume transfers of withheld Palestinian tax and customs revenues, directly or through the Mechanism.  He called for full implementation of the Agreement on Movement and Access and the full reopening of all border crossings.

He expressed concern over the situation in Lebanon, calling for stability and an end to the current deadlock.  Lebanon must be reconstructed and developed.  That could only be achieved in a peaceful, stable environment and through comprehensive national dialogue.  The presidential statement adopted by the Security Council last week was an important signal that the international community was paying serious attention to the region.  It underscored the need for progress in several areas -- including the release of the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizbollah last July -- and confidence-building by all relevant actors.  All parties must respect Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence.  Resolution 1701 (2006) presented a good basis for a comprehensive solution.  It must be fully respected and implemented.  The Lebanese Government must have monopoly on the use of force within its territory.

JORGE VOTO-BERNALES ( Peru) said he continued to watch with expectation the process begun 17 March when the National Unity Government of Palestine had been formed under the leadership of President Abbas.  He supported the Palestinian Government’s move to respect the ceasefire and recognize Israel and the principles of the Road Map.  Effective administration was needed in the Palestinian Occupied Territory to contain violence and prevent the worsening of daily civilian life.  That included the ability to end rocket attacks into Israel and arms trafficking inside Gaza that were preventing the necessary mobilization of international assistance to the Palestinians.  Israel must also suspend all new settlements and begin to dismantle the wall of separation.  The wall’s existence was contrary to international law and the spirit of peaceful coexistence.  Israel must permit the free movement of the Palestinian civilian population.  Restrictions on movements thwarted efforts to reduce tensions and also caused further socio-economic deterioration, while inhibiting United Nations humanitarian initiatives.

It was vital that the parties develop policies that worked towards the objectives of the peace process, including ending the occupation and establishing two States, he continued.  He lauded the efforts of the Israeli Prime Minister and the Palestinian President to hold regular bilateral talks as a stimulus for the peace process.  The Quartet was the most relevant mechanism for mobilizing all players towards dialogue and agreement.  He commended the Secretary-General’s efforts, including his visit to the region in the last few days, as well as steps by United States Secretary of State Rice to bring the parties together.  He supported the active, constructive involvement of Arab countries in the process and the efforts made during the last Arab League Summit in Riyadh.

Turning to Lebanon, he expressed concern over persistent internal acts that thwarted the efforts of the democratically elected Government to restore sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence, and the implementation of the substantive points of resolution 1701 (2006).  He supported the work of UNIFIL and its guiding role in avoiding future confrontations.  It was necessary to strengthen the ability of the Lebanese armed forces, enhance the arms embargo and disarm the militias.  The Lebanese Government must recover its monopoly over its airspace.  He said he hoped the tribunal on the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri would soon be ratified.

OLIVIER BELLE ( Belgium) said that there was some reason to look forward to progress in light of recent events, particularly since direct dialogue between the two sides had resumed, the Arab Peace Initiative had been revived and the international community, through the Quartet, was once again actively involved.   Belgium welcomed the talks between the leaders of both sides, but stressed that, while security and other issues should be at the top of the agenda during those talks, the leaders should not loose sight of the need to address issues concerning future relations between the Israeli and Palestinian side.  He also called on both sides to work to extend the Gaza ceasefire into the West Bank, and called on all factions to support the newly formed National Unity Government.

He called on the international community not to let the situation in Lebanon fester.  The international community must do its utmost to ensure that Lebanese authorities exercised their control over the country.  At the same time, factions inside Lebanon must do their part to ensure that peace took hold.   Belgium also shared concerns about Lebanon’s sovereignty.

LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said that there had recently been positive signs of an easing of tensions in the Middle East.  China believed that all parties should seize the historic opportunity to step up cooperation, expand dialogue and reinvigorate the peace process.  To that end, China would call on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides to work on confidence-building measures.   Israel should stop building the wall and the Palestinian side should do its utmost to end rocket attacks into Israel.  Both sides should also seek to agree on sustainable development issues, which mattered to all parties in the region.

He reiterated that all parties should seize the opportunity to “sail with the winds of progress” to achieve widespread peace.  The Arab-Israeli conflict could only be resolved by boosting contacts and widening dialogue between Israel and Arab countries.  He added that the international community should also do more to help ease the humanitarian crisis that was taking hold in Gaza, due to the international financial embargo.  He said that China was also concerned about the situation in Lebanon, and hoped that the war-torn country could make progress on national and political reconciliation.  He called on internal actors and the international community to ensure that the issue of impunity was addressed, so that Lebanon could move forward.

ALFREDO SUESCUM ( Panama) said that last month’s Arab League Summit had been a fruitful one.  He supported the renewed commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative, saying its basic principle of land for peace could lead to a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbours.  He called on the Palestinian Authority to accept the Initiative and thus facilitate the diplomatic work of allies of the peace process and send a clear message to the international community of its commitment to a two-State solution.  The efforts by United States Secretary of State Rice to bring together the Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian President were also important.  Although regular bilateral talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders had yet to yield concrete results, not meeting at all would impede a lasting solution to the question of Palestine.  He hoped the discussions would not just be an empty gesture.  The parties must discuss and work towards resolving key issues, such as the border of the Palestinian State, the refugee question and the jurisdiction over Jerusalem.  The parties must work towards a political horizon and some real hope for the future.

Events on the ground impeded the creation of a climate of confidence between the parties and a final peace accord, he said.  Continued attacks from Gaza by Palestinian militants threatened Israeli civilians on a daily basis.  The kidnapping of the Israeli soldier and the BBC reporter, whose fate was still unknown, created a climate of insecurity and showed that some Palestinian factions had very little desire to achieve peace.  He demanded the immediate release of the kidnapped men.  Unilateral actions by Israel’s Government greatly impeded the ability of Palestinian civilians to live a normal life.  There were flagrant violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.   Israel’s repeated military incursions into Palestinian territory, such as those that had occurred last weekend, had caused the death of innocent Palestinian civilians.  He reiterated his call for Israel to cease such acts and for the Palestinian Authority to exercise prudence and respect the ceasefire with Israel.

He expressed concern over the difficult conditions under which Palestinians lived.  Their restriction of movement and the construction of illegal settlements were a serious violation of human rights and international law.  They exacerbated the Palestinian’s frustration about the occupation and eroded their trust in Israel and the possibility of a sustainable solution through the peace process.  He urged Israel to end restrictions on Palestinian movement and to end construction of the separation wall.  Concerning Lebanon, he deplored the killing of a Lebanese soldier by unidentified people in the Nahr El-Bared refugee camp and called for the perpetrator to be brought to justice.  He reiterated his call for peace in Lebanon through a political process of national unity, which would require the creation of an international tribunal.

ALDO MANTOVANI ( Italy) said the proposal at the Riyadh Summit to revive the Beirut plan was one of the recent promising developments in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.  Contacts among Israel, Egypt and Jordan would help to gradually bring positions closer together. Concerned about statements by some Palestinian factions that meant to put an end to the truce in Gaza, he said the Palestinian Government must strongly commit to ending any violent attacks, as well as the launches of Qassam rockets, weapons smuggling in Gaza and the detention of Corporal Shalit.  Israel, for its part, should loosen restrictions on the freedom of movement and rapidly resume the transfer of customs revenues to the Palestinian Government.  Israel should seize the opportunity to revive, “with conviction”, the dialogue with President Abbas.

He said the political situation in Lebanon continued to be highly complex, and closely tied to the solution of two interrelated questions: the establishment of the international tribunal and the national unity Government.  Although the establishment of the international tribunal was necessary, there could be repercussions on the domestic framework if more incisive action was taken by the international community.  First, a national dialogue must emerge to address the root causes of the country’s political problems.  He also expressed concern at the lack of a solution on some key issues between Lebanon and Israel, including the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, the Shebaa farms and Israeli overflights in Lebanon.

Reports that weapons continued to be smuggled into Lebanon remained a matter of concern, he said.  It was fundamental that all the neighbouring countries commit themselves to prevent an increase in the destructive potential in the hands of the opposing Lebanese factions.  He supported the Secretary-General’s proposal to send an independent mission to assess the monitoring of the border with regard to weapons trafficking and to make recommendations.  It was important that Syria genuinely engage itself in that respect.  Also, it was essential to start reflecting on how to help the Lebanese armed forces achieve adequate standards, as it had encountered difficulties in preventing arms smuggling due to lack of equipment and adequate training.  .

KONSTANTIN DOLGOV ( Russian Federation) said that considerable noteworthy developments had taken place in recent months and the international community should do its utmost to support the revival of the Arab Peace Initiative and the ongoing talks between the two leaders.  He added that the Russian Federation looked forward to hearing from the Secretary-General now that he had returned from a visit to the region.  Both the Palestinian and Israeli sides must take care not to exacerbate tensions and to build on the progress that had been made.  As a member of the diplomatic Quartet, the Russian Federation would continue to advocate talks between the two sides and would continue to support the call from Riyadh for an international conference on the situation in the Middle East

He said that the situation in Lebanon was of continuing concern, mainly because the parties inside the country had made no progress on two key issues: forming a national unity Government; and establishing a tribunal on the killing of former Prime Minister Hariri.  The international community must, without exerting undue pressure, assist the parties in their search for stability and reconciliation.

ADIYATWIDI ADIWOSO ASMADY ( Indonesia) said bringing peace to the region was both a moral and strategic imperative.  The United Nations could not do it alone and must maintain and strengthen its efforts with the European Union, the United States and the Russian Federation.  Indonesia believed the Quartet was instrumental in driving momentum at the international level, but regional efforts were also needed; and, to that end, Indonesia welcomed the recent initiatives put in place by Saudi Arabia and the wider League of Arab States, particularly the recent revival of the Arab Peace Initiative.

She said that Indonesia was concerned about the security situation in Gaza and the West Bank.  Her delegation would demand that Israel cease its incursions into those areas and immediately end its door-to-door searches.  Indonesia was also concerned at Israel’s continued construction of a separation barrier in contravention of international law.  While she welcomed the establishment of a National Unity Government, she called on the international community to give it a chance to work and to provide assistance to promote its effectiveness.

On Lebanon, she expressed concern at the continued Israeli overflights in southern Lebanon, which was contrary to the letter and spirit of resolution 1701.   Indonesia also remained concerned at the ongoing political turmoil in Lebanon, and she stressed that, while the international community was working hard to ensure peace in the region, the Lebanese people and their leaders should work diligently towards unity and national reconciliation.

Council President KIM HOWELLS, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, speaking in his national capacity, said the relative stability in the Middle East in recent months had made political progress possible.  A return to violence would be unacceptable.  He condemned the Hamas military wing’s violation of the ceasefire in Gaza and called on the National Unity Government to take the necessary measures to prevent such attacks.  All sides must immediately cease violence, so that the political process, through dialogue, could continue.  He applauded creation of the Palestinian National Unity Government, saying he would judge it by its platform and actions and respond accordingly.  He called on colleagues to be consistent in their message to the Government on the importance of adhering to the Quartet’s principles.  He also welcomed the creation of the Arab Ministerial Committee for the Arab Peace Initiative and the role United States Secretary of State Rice had played in bringing the Israeli and Palestinian leaders together on 15 April.  He expressed hope that the bilateral dialogue would continue.

The international community must demonstrate its commitment to a future Palestinian State and to Israel’s security, he continued.  It could send a strong message of support for a viable Palestinian State by improving the capacity of Palestinian institutions and facilitating coordination of assistance to the Palestinians in the short term to improve their daily lives.  While the Temporary International Mechanism continued to channel humanitarian assistance, he called on Israel to release Palestinian tax revenues.  He supported Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s intention to normalize the opening of the Karni and Rafah border crossings and ease other restrictions on movement, which would help improve the Palestinian’s lives and boost confidence between the parties.  However, more must be done.  He called for the immediate release of Israeli Corporal Shalit and for a halt to the firing of Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel.  He expressed hope that the security plan presented by Palestinian President Abbas to the Israeli Prime Minister would be put into effect and would improve security.  He thanked all those who supported the United Kingdom’s call for the release of British journalist Alan Johnston, saying that his continued detention was unacceptable.

Turning to Lebanon, he supported the continued efforts of Prime Minister Siniora to find a solution to the current political situation.  The early creation of a tribunal to try those eventually indicted for the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was in the interests of all Lebanese and would be instrumental in bringing the cycle of politically motivated assassinations to an end.  He was fully committed to implementing Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), which -- like the Tribunal -- was central to Lebanon’s future.  The Council’s recent authorization of a United Nations mission to assess the security of the Lebanese border with Syria was an important step towards enhancing Lebanese sovereignty and improving compliance with the arms embargo established under resolution 1701.  He looked forward to progress on the Shebaa Farms issue and underscored the need to release the Israeli soldiers abducted last summer.

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine, thanked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for recently visiting the Occupied Palestinian Territory, where he had witnessed first-hand the difficulties on the ground, including, among others, the encroachment of settlements and the separation wall on all aspects of life, as well as the humanitarian crisis of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.  Despite multiple efforts by several parties, including Arab nations, the new Palestinian National Unity Government and members of the Quartet, to revive the peace process and resume direct negotiations for a just, peaceful resolution, Israel continued to carry out illegal policies and practices aimed at sustaining its nearly 40-year occupation.  While everyone else talked about peace, Israel’s colonization campaign and military aggression against the Palestinian civilian population continued.  Such actions were in stark contradiction to peace efforts and exacerbated the dire situation on the ground, inflaming tensions and cynicism, and undermining the resumption of dialogue and negotiation.

Palestinians continued to suffer from Israel’s daily serious violations and grave breaches of international law.  The critical situation Palestinians faced daily as a result of Israel’s actions, coupled with the unjust international sanctions imposed on them, tempered and threatened to extinguish hopes.  While the reality in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was depressing, it must be discussed.  Israel continued destructive and deadly military attacks throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  More Palestinian civilians, including children, had been killed and injured by Israeli forces recently -- including nine Palestinians this past weekend -- due to continued excessive, indiscriminate and lethal force.  The threat of a massive Israeli invasion of Gaza loomed, as indicated by the declarations of several Israeli officials.

Israel’s arrest campaigns and raids continued, as did the deplorable practice of using Palestinian civilians, including children, as human shields during door-to-door searches in some raids.  More than 11,000 Palestinian prisoners, including more than 100 women and at least 300 children, were being held in Israeli jails and detention centres, most in inhumane conditions and subject to torture.  Israel had intensified its colonial settlement campaign and construction of the separation wall, in grave breach of United Nations resolutions, the Fourth Geneva Convention and other provisions of applicable international law, as well as in total disregard for the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.  The land grab continued, as did attempts to de facto annex large areas of Palestinian land, particularly in and around East Jerusalem.  Israel continued to illegally expand and construct settlements, build Jewish-only bypass roads to the settlements and allow illegal Israeli settlers to act with impunity towards Palestinian civilians.

Israel continued to impose frequent closures on the Palestinian territory as a whole, subjecting, in particular, the Rafah crossing in the Gaza Strip -- the only point of entry and exit for Palestinian civilians in Gaza -- to repeated and arbitrary closures.  Such actions had worsened Gaza’s dire humanitarian situation, where people were largely dependent on food aid and more than 70 per cent lived in poverty, further fuelling frustrations and tensions among the imprisoned civilian population.  Palestinians continued to suffer from the international sanctions imposed on them and Israel’s unlawful withholding of millions of dollars of Palestinian tax revenue following the democratic election of Palestinian representatives last year. 

“Why had Israel not accepted the Palestinian offer to extend the ceasefire to the West Bank?” he asked.  Israel, the occupier, clearly promoted a culture for its people to live in fear of their victims.  It perpetuated the perception that Israelis must be afraid and live in fear of those who they were occupying and subjugating, a perception that served the interests of those pursuing a narrow, extremist agenda.  How could they continue to muster support from the majority of the Israeli population -- which sought peace -- for their separation wall, the settlements, checkpoints, siege of Jerusalem and the collective punishment of the Palestinians?

There was a window of opportunity, he said.  Palestinians and other Arabs were seizing it to move forward.  The formation of a Palestinian National Unity Government comprising all political groups, including Hamas, had mandated President Abbas to negotiate a just, final peace settlement with Israel.  Arab countries had reaffirmed the Arab Peace Initiative during their recent Summit in Riyadh.  Full peace and normalization of relations were being offered to Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from the territories Israel had occupied since 1967 and the creation of a Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, based on the 1967 borders.  Last week, a follow-up Arab Ministerial Committee had decided on practical steps to invigorate the Arab Peace Initiative, including meetings with members of the Security Council, the Quartet and the Secretary-General.  It had also decided to call for an international conference for all parties to the conflict under United Nations auspices.  That historic opportunity should not be lost.

DAN GILLERMAN (Israel) said that, while he had been heartened and encouraged by the statement of the Council members who had recognized the changes on the ground and the opportunity for progress, he had been distressed by the sense of “déjà vu all over again” after listening to the statement of the Palestinian Observer.  It had been very “disturbing and eerie” to consider that that statement purported to relay the views of the Palestinian people.  Among other things, speaking of Gaza as a “massive prison” simply ignored the fact that Israel had left the area two years ago and it had been the Palestinians that had turned it into an incubator of terrorism and extremism, and a launch pad to fire rockets into Israel, the very next day.

He said that, yesterday, while Israel had celebrated the fifty-ninth year of its independence, the nation had also recognized that the reality of Israeli history also meant that its independence day was a solemn time to remember the difficulties of the past.   Israel honoured the courageous and valiant efforts of its soldiers who had been killed defending the Israeli people and those that had fallen victim to terror.  But the “harrowing reality” of the present day was also a cause for concern, he said, stressing that, just yesterday, Hamas, by its own account, had launched 28 Qassam rockets and 61 mortar shells at his country.  Those attacks on the day Israel marked its independence had been “nothing short of a severe provocation”.

He said that, yesterday, Hamas had also declared the Gaza ceasefire null and void.  Since the ceasefire had begun in November 2006, Israel had continued to exercise restraint to the more than 200 rockets fired at it by Palestinian terrorists.   Israel always reserved the right to defend itself and its people, in line with the United Nations Charter, and would do so if the attacks did not stop.  “If there are still any sceptics out there; yesterday, the Hamas-led Palestinian Government showed its true colours,” he said, adding that Israel needed no further evidence to know that the ways of Hamas were not the ways of peace.  “Hamas has shown that it will not stop its campaign of terror until its unholy ambition of destroying Israel is fulfilled,” he said.

The international community, led by the Quartet, had made the obligations of the Palestinian Government quite clear -- to recognize Israel, renounce violence and terror, and abide by previous agreements.  Yet, Hamas still held Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who had been kidnapped by terrorists last June.  “These basic conditions are principles of peace.  As the Palestinian Government flaunts these conditions and sees terror as a legitimate goal, the international community should continue its policy towards that Government,” he said, adding that: “Nothing -- no initiatives, summits or declarations –- can take place of an end to Palestinian terror.”  He also added that Prime Minister Olmert world continue his biweekly meetings with President Abbas, but that Israel would fight Hamas as if there was no Abbas. 

On Lebanon, he said that, five months after the Council’s adoption of resolution 1701 (2006), the situation along the Blue Line remained a serious concern, and Israel had, in that time, identified three main areas that demanded immediate attention: the presence of armed Hizbollah elements south of the Litani River and the transfer of weapons from Syria to Hizbollah in Lebanon, in violation of the arms embargo; the concern that some of those weapons were destined for south Lebanon; and the continued holding of Israeli soldiers, kidnapped by Hizbollah terrorists some 10 months ago.  Here, he read out the names of five more Israeli soldiers that had been kidnapped in recent months, saying that Israel had received no word of their whereabouts.

He said resolution 1701 had been unequivocal in its demands for the disarming of Hizbollah, for an end to arms transfers to Hizbollah terrorists and for the immediate and unconditional release of Israeli soldiers.  He added that the interference of Iran and Syria, the “sponsors of terror” in the region who were rearming Hizbollah and shipping weapons, must end now.  Finally, he said Israel yearned to live in peace with all its neighbours.  Though Israel knew that those efforts could be strengthened by moderates in the region, it also knew that no one could “make peace for our neighbours”.  It was up to the parties themselves to show the courage to face down extremists and embrace their responsibilities.

CAROLINE ZIADE ( Lebanon) asked the Council what more could be said about the situation in the Middle East.  It was a near 60-year-old conflict that had uprooted an entire nation and transformed its people into a population of refugees.  “It is a history of blocked peace … repetitive wars, immense pain and suffering, and an emerging radicalism,” she said.  Although Arab leaders at a summit in Beirut had adopted the so-called Arab Peace Initiative five years ago aimed at the establishment of two States, the restoration of lands, the return of all refuges and the normalization of relations with Israel, the situation in the Middle East had changed very little.

“ Israel’s colonialist policies are pursued with the same level of determination and short-sightedness, to the detriment of all,” she said, pointing to Israel’s continued construction of an “imprisonment wall”, the continued growth of settlements and the collective punishment of an entire population.  On 28 March, a summit of Arab leaders in Riyadh had reactivated the 2002 Peace Initiative and, on 18 April, the leaders had held a meeting to promote their principles of peace.  That meeting had reaffirmed the Arab commitment to a comprehensive, just and peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  But, the same level of commitment was required from Israel, in order to achieve that peace and carry out confidence-building measures.  She said the historic opportunity provided by the recent Arab League Summit, which had also called for an international conference on the Middle East and had urged the diplomatic Quartet to relaunch the peace process on all tracks, must be seized to ensure peace security and stability in the region.

Turning to Lebanon, she said her Government was committed to the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006).  It would abide by its obligations and looked forward to a permanent ceasefire that would guarantee Lebanon’s stability and security.  However, Israel’s repeated overflights of Lebanese airspace, its continued occupation of the northern town of Ghajar and its continued detention of Lebanese citizens were all violations of international law.  While those violations should not be linked to the enforcement of the embargo on illegal arms, Lebanon had taken a series of measures to curb illegal arms activities, including the deployment of more than 8,000 troops to its eastern and northern frontiers with Syria.   Lebanon was also cooperating with Germany on a pilot project to improve border security.

On another issue, she urged the international community to press Israel to submit all relevant information on the placement of cluster bombs in south Lebanon, which were a continuing threat to the civilian population there.  She said her Government was also pursuing the vital matter of a special tribunal to safeguard liberties and to put an end to impunity in the country.

BASSAM DARWISH ( Syria) said the Middle East had suffered for many decades from colonialism, injustice, harassment, occupation, suppression and the use of force against its people.  The continued Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, Palestine and southern Lebanon, Israel’s refusal to respond to the Arab Peace Initiative and the aggression against the rights of Arab people underscored that Israel did not believe in peace.  Successive Israeli Governments had continued to brush off efforts to achieve peace.  Arab leaders had once again called for the immediate affirmation of the Arab Peace Initiative.  Israel, however, had set impossible preconditions, which had led to the rejection of that Initiative.  Israel had rejected the Initiative since it had been adopted in 2002 and continued taking actions to eliminate it.  He underscored the Arab commitment to achieving peace and stressed that the comprehensive peace process could not be partitioned.

The Arab Peace Initiative emphasized that a just peace could only be achieved through a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian lands it had occupied since 1967 and a just solution for Palestinian refugees, he said.  General Assembly resolution 194 (1948) and the Arab Peace Initiative recognized the creation of a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.  On 18 April, Arab ministers had adopted a plan of action to present the Arab point of view that peace required a commitment on the part of the Arabs and of Israel.  Israel must take the necessary confidence-building measures and start serious negotiations on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative.  Arab ministers had called for holding an international conference, under the auspices of the United Nations with relevant regional and international parties, to start direct negotiations to achieve an agreed upon timetable.

Successive Israeli Governments had continued to practice a policy of aggression, including death squads to assassinate Palestinian civilians and leaders, among them the Speaker of the Council, he said.  Israel continued to show its disregard for international law and the democratic will of the Palestinian people; and it continued to breach agreements by killing Palestinians, destroying their property and using Palestinians as human shields during its siege on Palestinian homes.  It continued to build a separation wall in flagrant violation of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.

Israel continued to confiscate land and expel Syrians by force from their homes in the Occupied Syrian Golan, he said.  Israel had brought settlers from all parts of the world to the Golan at the expense of the human rights of Syrians living there for centuries.  Israel had tried to annex the Golan in clear violation of United Nations resolutions.  Further, it continued to bury its nuclear waste and lay landmines in the Golan, seriously threatening the survival and well-being of the local Syrian population.  In addition, it continued to detain a large number of Syrians in inhumane conditions, and he called on the Security Council to take serious measures to force Israel to release those political prisoners, some of whom had spent more than 25 years in prison.  Syria had chosen a just and comprehensive peace as an option for the Golan and other occupied Arab territories.  Israel must understand that it must withdraw to the June 1967 borders.

Regarding delegates’ references to the false claims made by Israel concerning the transfer of small weapons across the Lebanese-Syrian border, he said Syria had expressed, at the highest leadership level, its commitment to Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  The Secretary-General had stated that fact during his press conference in Damascus yesterday.  Further, the Secretary-General had emphasized in his last report that Syria was committed to implementing resolution 1701.  Israel, however, was in flagrant violation of 1701 and of Lebanese airspace.  High-level Lebanese authorities, including the Lebanese President, had rejected the claim that there had been any cases of arms smuggling through the Lebanese-Syrian border.  That border was patrolled around the clock to prevent smuggling.  Meetings of the joint Lebanese-Syrian Commission continued.  Their third meeting would be held at month’s end to discuss the prevention of arms smuggling across those borders.  He called on the Security Council to undertake its responsibilities, as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, to maintain peace in the region and to pressure Israel to implement resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) in particular.

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*     The 5665th and 5666th Meetings were closed.

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