PALESTINIAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE ADOPTS STATEMENT EXPRESSING GRAVE CONCERN

AT CONFRONTATION IN JERUSALEM AND OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY

Committee Also Approves Draft Text On Bethlehem 2000

and Report to General Assembly

The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People adopted a statement this afternoon in which it expressed grave concern at the continued confrontation in Jerusalem and throughout the occupied Palestinian territory.

Almost two weeks of escalating violence and the use of excessive force by the Israeli Defence Force had left more than 80 Palestinians dead, and well over 2,000 injured, according to the statement. The Committee viewed the violent confrontations as a direct result of the policies and practices of the Israeli occupation and Israel's failure to respect its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

The Committee reiterated its strong support for recent efforts by the co-sponsors of the peace process, the Secretary-General as well as the Presidents of France and Egypt. It hoped that those steps would contribute to de-escalation of the violence, lessening of the tensions between the two sides and the early resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

Also this afternoon, the Committee approved, without a vote, a draft resolution on Bethlehem 2000. [The Bethlehem 2000 project is a multifaceted commemorative event that began at Christmas 1999 "as a symbol of the shared hope for peace among all peoples of the world".]

By the terms of the draft, which was introduced by the Committee Chairman, Ibra Deguene Ka (Senegal), the General Assembly would welcome the global and historic celebration in Bethlehem and the onset of the new millennium. It would express support for the Bethlehem 2000 Project and commend the efforts of the Palestinian Authority in that regard. Noting with appreciation the worldwide support for the Project, the Assembly would decide to conclude consideration of the item on Bethlehem 2000 at the current session.

Taking up its report to the General Assembly, the Committee approved that text, which covers developments since the adoption of the last report. Those include a number of steps made in implementation of earlier Israeli-Palestinian agreements, including the partial release of Palestinian prisoners, the opening of a safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and further redeployment of Israeli troops from the West Bank.

Introducing the report, Walter Balzan (Malta), the Committee's Rapporteur, said the report stressed that the United Nations should continue to exercise its permanent responsibility towards all the aspects of the question of Palestine. Last-minute changes had been made to the text reflecting the recent outbreak of violence in the Middle East and the Security Council's deliberations in that regard.

On the developments in the Middle East peace process and the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, the Committee heard statements by its Chairman and the representatives of Cyprus, Syria, Afghanistan and Senegal.  The Permanent Observer for Palestine also addressed the Committee.

On other matters, the Committee was informed that the item on Bethlehem 2000 would be considered by the Assembly on 16 October. The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People would take place on 29 November. The consideration of the question of Palestine would begin in the afternoon of the same day.

The next meeting of the Committee will be announced at a later date.

Statements

Ibra Deguene Ka (Senegal), Committee Chairman, addressing the "massive and deadly" confrontations in the occupied Palestinian territory, said they had resulted in more than 80 Palestinians dead, and total casualties exceeding 2,000.

In reaction to the escalating violence, he had addressed a letter, dated 2 October, to the Secretary-General. On 4 October, he had made a statement to the Security Council in his capacity as Chairman of the Committee. On 7 October, the Council had adopted resolution 1322 (2000) by a vote of 14 in favour to none against, with one abstention (United States).

He said that efforts to end the violence included determined attempts to revive the peace process undertaken by Presidents William Clinton (United States), Jacques Chirac (France) and Hosni Mubarak (Egypt), as well as Secretary-General Kofi Annan and United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who had sponsored meetings last week in Paris and Sharm el-Sheikh. Although the parties had disagreed on the nature of a possible commission of inquiry into the violence, the meetings were viewed as a step towards reducing tension between the two sides.

He told the Committee that the confrontations had followed meetings at the Millennium Summit between Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, with world leaders including President Clinton. There had been hope that the Millennium Summit would give fresh impetus to the peace negotiations and allow the negotiating teams to resume their work.  Most regrettably, soon afterwards, the negotiating process had broken down again as a result of the disturbing events at Al-Haram Al-Sharif and subsequent violent confrontations and bloodshed.

NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said that Palestine's high hopes of celebrating full membership of the United Nations had been dashed by a dangerous and deteriorating situation in the occupied territory as a result, once again, of Israeli policies and practices. On 28 September, Ariel Sharon, leader of the Israeli opposition, had visited Al-Haram Al-Sharif to emphasize claims of illegal Israeli sovereignty over the holy site. Armed security forces had accompanied him, further aggravating tensions and leading to violence.

He said that the next day, following Friday worship, Israeli security forces had stormed Al-Haram Al-Sharif, the third holiest place in Islam, using rubber bullets and live ammunition against the worshippers. The violence had later spread to other places throughout the occupied Palestinian territory. In that campaign of terror, the Israeli forces had used high-velocity ammunition, anti-tank rockets and helicopter gunships. In addition, Israeli settlers had committed criminal attacks against Palestinians.

Regarding Joseph's Tomb, he said there had been a lot of misinformation. Israel had effectively transformed the Jewish holy site into a heavily fortified military post. In the last few days, Israeli security forces had killed 18 Palestinians there. In any event, the Palestinian side had already taken action to repair the religious site.

He drew the Committee's attention to the actions being taken against the Arab people in Israel itself, which was quite different from actions in the occupied Palestinian territory. Furthermore, Israeli mobs had been looting and imposing all kinds of difficulties on Arab people, including the burning of a historic mosque.

Over the past few days, efforts had been made to reverse the situation, including meetings in Paris and Sharm el-Sheik, he said. Those efforts continued, despite the Israeli ultimatum demanding an end to the violence. An international committee was needed to undertake a speedy inquiry into the violent events with the aim of preventing a repetition in the future.

Meanwhile, the Security Council had successfully adopted resolution 1322 (2000), an extremely important resolution, despite the efforts of an influential permanent Council member to impose a meaningless presidential statement and later to drastically water down the text.

SOTIRIOS ZACKHEOS (Cyprus) reiterated his country's position that the Palestinian problem constituted the core of the Middle East conflict. Cyprus supported a just and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). A lesson drawn from the present escalation of violence was that unless peace efforts and initiatives were based on international law, the resulting peace would rest on very shaky foundations.

He stressed that the mighty should always have a greater understanding of the frustrations of people who had long suffered under occupation and who longed to live in peace, dignity and security. The recent violence did not serve the interest of any party to the conflict and should stop immediately.

MIKHAIL WEHBE (Syria) said while it was true that Mr. Sharon's visit to the holy site had been a provocation, acts by Israel against the Palestinian people had been going on for decades now. The Israeli leadership was speaking about peace without real aspirations to that end. Numerous attempts to establish a just and comprehensive peace in the region had been shot down by Israel, which was trying to lead the peace process into a dead end.

He added that the peace that Israel wanted was really a continuation of foreign occupation and exploitation of the region for its own purposes. While the Palestinians, Syrians and other Arabs were striving for real peace, Israel was ignoring the relevant Security Council resolutions and the principle of land for peace. Israel was also trying to control the holy shrines not just of the Palestinian people, but of all Muslims and Arabs. What the Palestinian people saw was a racist war, where Arabs were being killed without accountability. It was taking place not only in Palestine, but also in other Arab territories.

Israel was supported by a super-Power and other countries that defended its actions, he said. Attempts were being made to establish parity between the victim and the aggressor, the killer and the killed. Syrians, Palestinians and Lebanese saw only one option – peace based on international justice and legitimacy. His delegation would support any efforts to find a solution to the problem, taking into account the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.

RAVAN A.G. FARHADI (Afghanistan) said it was clear that the actions of the Israeli police and military had been shocking. Al-Haram Al-Sharif was very important for Muslims. The holy site was mentioned in the Holy Book. The provocation that had started with the visit of Ariel Sharon was an insult not only to Palestinians, but also to other Arab nations and to the whole Muslim community. He paid homage not only to the Muslims, but also to Jews all over the world who understood what was happening and sympathized with the Palestinians.

ABSA CLAUDE DIALLO (Senegal) said the situation would strengthen the Committee's determination to redouble its efforts at this critical moment in the Middle East situation in order to find, as rapidly as possible, a just and durable settlement of the conflict.

Meanwhile, she said, the international community would have to continue its extreme vigilance to ensure an end to human rights violations against the Palestinians and other Arab people in the occupied territory.

She associated herself with speakers who had called for a speedy resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations for the benefit of all the peoples of the Middle East region and that of the Palestinian people in their own State, as part of the exercise of all their inalienable rights.

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