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Published:August 22nd, 2006 12:55 EST
Security Council met today to discuss the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question

Security Council met today to discuss the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question

By SOP newswire

IBRAHIM GAMBARI, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that it was necessary to step back from the events of the past month in the Middle East, especially the situation in Lebanon, and consider the state of the overall peace process in the region in light of the developments during the past year.  This time last year, Israel had been in the process of disengaging from Gaza and part of the northern West Bank, and the international community, led by the Quartet, had been working to ensure that that step would lead the parties back to the Road Map and the revival of the economy of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  “These hopes have not been fulfilled”, he said, adding that “far from advancing towards the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, we have seen that vision slip further away during the past year”.

There were several reasons for that unfortunate development, starting with the political positions and actions of the parties.  While president Abbas remained firmly committed to his platform for peace, the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority appointed last January had not fully committed itself to the basic principles of the peace process, namely, non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements.  He said that, although factional tensions persisted, a broad spectrum of political and other Palestinian forces was currently engaged in dialogue to put in place a national unity government with a new programme.  In the meantime, while efforts to strengthen Palestinian border management and the security services that fell under the President continued, the Palestinian reform agenda had largely been frozen, and with it Palestinian compliance with the “Road Map” obligations.

On the Israeli side, the coalition Government had stated its readiness to commence negotiations if the Palestinian Authority accepted the basic principles of the peace process, and implemented Road Map obligations.  But Israel had not transferred approximately half a billion dollars it owed to the Authority under the Paris Protocol, and had also failed to implement Road Map obligations, including freezing settlement activity and removing outposts.  Meanwhile, it had been planning for the future, based on unilateral moves to disengage from parts of the West bank, while consolidating Israeli presence in other parts, he said.  Another measure of the stagnation of the peace process had been the degradation of the Palestinian Authority itself.  That entity was the most tangible symbol of Palestinian hopes for Statehood, as well as of Israeli hopes for a viable partner.

He said that, by the end of 2005, the Authority had already been facing serious difficulties, and, while the international community had praised aspects of its response during the disengagement process, the Authority’s performance since then had been “mixed”.  The wage bill continued to grow as the Authority recruited more officers into the security force; security in Gaza had deteriorated; and rocket attacks on Israel had continued.  By last December, key donors were reconsidering their support to the Authority’s already depleted budget, he said, adding that, since January, the Authority’s domestic revenues had plunged and its workers, which supported about one third of the Palestinian population, had received only a fraction of their salaries over the past six months.  Absenteeism in some areas of the civil service had now passed 40 per cent.

Further, movement restrictions had meant that the Palestinian Cabinet had actually never met in one place, and that ministers had been confined to Gaza or the West bank.  Moreover, several Cabinet members, including the Deputy Prime Minister, and now the Speaker and Secretary-General of Parliament, were in Israeli detention.  He noted that other ministers were now in hiding or abroad, leaving ministries without policy direction, and creating disillusionment among managers and employees who had remained at their posts.  In Gaza, Israeli shelling had damaged several ministry buildings, and other ministries were increasingly resorting to United Nations assistance for fuel, transport and office equipment.  The fact that the Palestinian Authority had published no annual budget for 2001 was another indicator of its deterioration, he said, adding that Hamas’ approach to running the ministries -– for example, the promotion of Hamas members into senior civil service positions –- might also have contributed to the disillusionment.

He went on to say that mechanisms such as the Temporary International mechanism and the United Nations consolidated appeal had been put in place to ensure that basic goods and services were delivered and that minimum cash payments were made to the needy.  They could not replace the Palestinian Authority, nor did they generate the economic growth or provide the hope the people needed.  Indeed, the Authority’s continuing decline could lead to the collapse of a key provider, stabilizer and interlocutor in the region, to say nothing of Palestinian hopes for a Palestinian State.  The most terrible measure of the state of the peace process was the suffering, destruction and death from violence, he continued, noting that Israeli land, air and sea operations, despite their stated aim of dealing with militants or military targets, had killed large numbers of civilians, including many children, and had caused heavy damage to civilian infrastructure, particularly in Gaza, “where violence is a daily fact of life”.

“In the West bank, too, Israeli incursions are a regular occurrence, particularly in Nablus and Jenin, often causing fatalities”, he said.  At the same time, there had been several Palestinian attacks in Israeli cities over the last 12 months -– the last in April, although Israeli authorities had reported that they had foiled many other attempted operations.  Israeli civilians living in towns and kibbutzim near Gaza had endured regular Qassam rocket attacks, and, though no Israeli civilians had been killed by rockets since the disengagement, there had been injuries, and if the attacks continued, it was only a matter of time before there were fatalities, he said.  “The cycle of attack and counter-attack leads only to increase human suffering, which is intolerable on all sides”, he said, noting that, in the past year, a total of 41 Israelis had been killed and nearly 480 injured by Palestinian violence.  In the same period, over 450 Palestinians had been killed and over 2,500 injured by Israeli violence.

Meanwhile, there had been no progress in securing the release of Corporal Shalit, despite calls for his unconditional release.  His parents had not even received a “sign of life”, which was the least his captors could do.  Nor had President Abbas’ long-standing efforts to secure Palestinian prisoner releases yet born fruit.  He went on to say that another reason for lack of progress in the peace process towards a negotiated solution had been the creation of facts on the ground that would appear to prejudice final status issues, including the continuation of settlement activity, as well as continued building of the barrier by Israel, despite the International Court of Justice, advisory opinion.  He also went on to express concern about the economic situation in the occupied territories, particularly since development was a building block for peace.

He said the single biggest impediment to Palestinian economic growth, according to the World Bank, had been the closure regime.  The number of the Israel Defense Forces’ manned and unmanned physical obstacles in the West Bank had increased by some 43 per cent since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, despite the terms of the Agreement on Movement and Access, which had been designed to achieve exactly the contrary.  Moreover, Rafah had been closed for all but two days of the past seven weeks, preventing people from entering or leaving Gaza.  Thousands of Palestinian expatriate workers, who had come home for family visits, were at risk of losing their jobs and visas if they were not allowed to leave Gaza to return to the countries where they worked.

He said he was also worried about the attitudes of ordinary men and women in the region over the past year.  While that attitude was difficult to quantify, it had been easy to discern, and opinion polls suggested a woeful decline in confidence in the peace process and the prospects of a negotiated settlement on both sides.  “This trend, already plain before the recent conflict between Hizbollah and Israel, may well have been strengthened by it.  Few people on either side believe that an end to the conflict is in sight”, he said, adding that on one side, the result could well be further radicalization and support for violence and terror, while, on the other, it could well be support for harsh and excessive military actions and unilateral measures.  “Positions may be hardening, and could harden further unless a credible political process is somehow revived”, he warned.

After recounting the reasons why “we have reached this sorry juncture” in the Middle East peace process, he said it was now clear the challenges that lay ahead for the wider international community.  And, while he recognized that the peace process would not be easy, the absence of a credible political horizon –- while in large part a consequence of decisions, actions and inactions by the parties themselves -– was also partly a cause of some of the decisions, actions and inactions.  Indeed, he said, the absence of a comprehensive solution was the root cause of the region’s problems, and progress towards a two-State solution would undoubtedly facilitate the resolution of conflict elsewhere in the region and vice versa.  “The stalled state of the peace process should, therefore, be regarded as unacceptable -– both on its own merits, and because of its broader implications”, he said.

There were many concrete steps, some immediate, which needed to be taken to get out of the current crisis and back towards a political path.  He recalled that the Secretary-General had noted that it was time to consider something more -- a renewed international effort in which the various crises in the region were addressed not in isolation or bilaterally, but as part of a holistic and comprehensive effort, sanctioned and championed by the Council, to bring peace and stability to the region as a whole.  The tragedy such as the international community had witnessed in the past month should be converted into an opportunity to take prompt, concerted action by all parties to resolve the problems and issues in the region, which had confronted everyone, without resolution, for far too long, he said.

MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina) said Israel had violated the provisions of resolution 1701 (2006) through its operation in the Bekaa Valley and its continued violations of Lebanese airspace, but recalled that all States had an obligation to comply with the arms embargo established in that resolution, in particular Lebanon’s neighbours.

Argentina welcomed the deployment of Lebanese Armed Forces in the south, while the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from southern Lebanon was a priority.  Meanwhile, the Lebanese Government must fulfil its responsibilities between the Litani River and the Blue Line.  Hopefully, the circulation of the draft rules of engagement and concept of operations of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) would ensure that Force’s substantive contribution to the process.  Work should also continue on obtaining the unconditional release of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizbollah and finding a solution to the problem of Lebanese prisoners.

He went on to say that his country supported the mission of Mr. Nambiar and Mr. Roed-Larsen, especially since finding the solution to outstanding concerns such as the disarmament of Hizbollah and other militias, respecting the arms embargo and the Shebaa Farms issue was essential in achieving a lasting solution to the conflict.  It was also essential that Israel lift the maritime and aerial blockades, as well as restrictions on land crossings to allow access to those in need of humanitarian assistance.  Finally, Argentina was concerned by the humanitarian crisis affecting Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which was the result of Israel’s use of excessive force and Palestinian extremist activities and should not be forgotten.  Israel should end military activities in those areas, immediately and unconditionally release all Palestinian officials and legislators, and contribute to improving the humanitarian situation.

VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said the situation in the Middle East was a source of serious concern.  Joint efforts of the international community were needed to prevent escalation of the situation and establish conditions for achieving progress in the political process.  If resolution 1701 were properly implemented, tension in the entire region would be reduced.

He said the implementation process continued satisfactorily, with the Lebanese Army taking control of the southern part of the country, while the Israeli army was withdrawing.  The main task was now not to allow any disruption of the process.

The situation in the Palestinian territories remained unstable as well, he said, as Israel had not stopped its use of force there and arresting heads of Palestinian Authority bodies and other officials destabilized the situation.   Such developments once again confirmed that it was impossible to resolve the conflict in the region, if a solution to the root cause, namely the Palestinian conflict, was not found.  The Palestinian-Israeli dialogue should, therefore, be resumed as soon as possible.

JOHN BOLTON ( United States), said resolution 1701, adopted 11 days ago, had been an important step that could lay the foundation for peace in the region if properly implemented.  His country took the imperative of fully implementing the resolution seriously, including the financial consequences.  In that regard, he repeated pledges of financial aid to Lebanon, as well as for reconstruction of damaged infrastructure as a result of Hizbollah rocket attacks.

He said it was important to move as quickly as possible to enhance UNIFIL and urged potential troop-contributing countries to expedite their decision-making process, as delay would not serve the interest of anyone, except those who opposed a free and sovereign Lebanon.  One of the goals of the resolution, the cessation of hostilities, had been achieved.  Even though Israel had executed a military operation in Lebanon, that had been done to prevent the rearmament of Hizbollah -- the resolution had given Israel the right to defend itself.  He added that the embargo must be strictly observed, and the burden of abiding by its term fell on Syria and Iran.

Resolution 1701 also emphasized the need to address urgently the causes that had given rise to the crisis, including release of the Israeli soldiers, he continued.  If the international community only applied a temporary band-aid and allowed Hizbollah to rearm, the suffering might intensify in the near future.  An unprovoked attack by Hizbollah had started the conflict, and, in order to achieve peace, an end must be put to Hizbollah operating as a State within a State, including through preventing support for the group by Syria and Iran.  He remained deeply concerned by the attitude of Syria and Iran, whose leaders had recently called for the destruction of Israel.

The United States remained deeply concerned about the crisis between Israel and the Palestinians, instigated by an attack by Hamas.  The humanitarian impact of the crisis had been the result of the failure of the Hamas Government to govern responsibly and its rejection of peace.  The United States had increased its humanitarian assistance to the region, as well as its support for democracy and private sector development.  He looked forward to the quick implementation of resolution 1701, as the price of failure was to condemn the people of Lebanon and Israel to further violence and suffering.

LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said that the Middle East had undergone two bloody conflicts in recent months, and the people of the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Israel had suffered serious consequences.  He called on both Israel and Lebanon to ensure the implementation of Council resolution 1701, which had ended hostilities between Israel and Hizbollah.  Implementing that text required the political will of all parties along with the international community.  China would call on the international community to boost its support to Lebanon and the Lebanese people, particularly towards easing the humanitarian suffering and repairing buildings and other infrastructure.  The international community should spare no effort to ensure that the Lebanese Government could quickly exercise its full control over all its territory.  He also called on Israel to do its part to ensure that Lebanon was put promptly on the road to recovery.

But even as pressing as the crisis in Lebanon had been, the international community should not forget the suffering of the Palestinian people and the devastation in the Gaza Strip.  He urged all parties to abide by international humanitarian law.  For its part, Israel should release all democratically elected officials currently held in detention, while the Palestinian side should look towards releasing prisoners, as well as quickly institute measures to end the firing of rockets into Israel.  Success in the Middle East peace process could not be achieved without a comprehensive solution that addressed all sides.  He urged the international community to work with all the parties to ensure that the peace process got under way again soon, in line with the Road Map.

EMYR JONES PARRY ( United Kingdom) said the objectives of resolution 1701 were clear, chiefly to bring about conditions for a lasting ceasefire and put in motion work towards a long-term solution.  The progress in planning for the enhanced UNIFIL deployment was under way, and it was now up to the international community to move quickly.  Still, he recognized the situation was fragile and urged all sides to refrain from provocative actions, particularly those that would further add to the humanitarian suffering.  He also called for an end to the air and sea blockades of Lebanon.

Nevertheless, the Secretary-General’s report was cause for guarded optimism, but he stressed that everyone should remain focused on one of the key objectives of resolution 1701:  Lebanese sovereignty along with Israeli security, as well as the full implementation of relevant Council resolutions, 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006).  He added that the United Kingdom also looked to others with influence in the region –- namely Syria and Iran -– to do their parts to ensure that the elements of the Council’s resolutions were implemented, particularly its call in resolution 1701 to ensure that no outside weapons reached Lebanese territory.

He went on to say that today’s briefing, which had focused on Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, reminded everyone that the suffering of those caught up in that conflict had not been any less, though the Council’s focus had rightly been elsewhere.  It was vitally important that all sides worked to actively de-escalate that conflict, namely to ensure the release of prisoners and the end to firing of rockets and missiles into Israel.  At the same time, he called for those Palestinian officials held in Israel to be either charged or released as soon as possible.  The briefing had also been a reminder that real peace in the region, as well as real sovereignty for Lebanon and security for Israel would only come about through a comprehensive political solution.  There was no military solution.  The international community’s priorities in the medium term would rightly be Lebanon and Gaza, but stakeholders should work in parallel to revive the overall Middle East peace process and the Road Map.

LARS FAABORG-ANDERSEN ( Denmark) welcomed the fact that the cessation of hostilities seemed to be holding, that the Israeli forces had initiated withdrawal and that contacts between Israeli and Lebanese forces were continuing.  As the situation remained fragile, all parties must exercise utmost restraint.  Denmark was waiting for parliamentary approval to support an enhanced UNIFIL.  Now that the confusion over the rules of engagement had been cleared, it was to be hoped that other Governments would also join it.  Denmark welcomed the Secretary-General’s timely decision to dispatch Mr. Roed-Larsen and Mr. Nambiar to the region to facilitate negotiations on a lasting ceasefire, including the disarmament of all militias, and looked forward to proposals to, among other things, settle the question of Shebaa Farms and the release of the abducted soldiers.

In spite of the ceasefire, the humanitarian situation was disturbing, he said, noting that the Government of Lebanon urgently needed the capacity to be the lead player in reconstruction efforts.  Denmark had already disbursed $4 million to Lebanon and dispatched specialists to assist in cleaning up the oil spill.  Denmark was particularly concerned about the situation in the Gaza Strip, where hostilities continued and the economy had almost broken down.  The political situation was deteriorating as well.  If a solution to the crisis was not found, the consequences could be serious.  Denmark called for the unconditional release of the abducted soldier and was concerned about the detention of Palestinian officials.  All parties must do their utmost to avoid escalations, as well as act responsibly and with a sense of proportion.

MICHEL DUCLOS ( France) welcomed the first positive effects of the resolution in Lebanon, as the end of hostilities had now entered its second week and the two parties had generally respected the deadlines agreed upon.  The Israeli military operation in the Bekaa Valley was, however, a source of concern and France called on all parties to demonstrate the utmost restraint and respect their obligations under the resolution.  They must complete as soon as possible the parallel process of deployment of the Lebanese army and the withdrawal of the Israeli Army.  The international community must now strive to ensure the unconditional release of Israeli prisoners, the settlement of the issue of Lebanese prisoners in Israel, the lifting of the blockade against Lebanon and a respect for the embargo on illegal arms by all parties.

He said his country continued to be concerned at the worsening security and humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  The international community should once again get involved in the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it was a major source of instability in the region.  The Palestinian Authority must take every measure to end the firing of missiles into Israel and to work for the freeing of the abducted Israeli soldier.  The Palestinian Authority must also fight terrorism by all possible measures.  France hoped that Hamas would recognize Israel, renounce violence and respect past agreements.  Israel must end its disproportionate military operations against Palestinian towns and refugee camps.  It was also important that Israel abstain from any measure that could undermine the Palestinian Authority as an institution and a future negotiating partner.  The recent arrest of high officials was counterproductive.

It was essential that the international community work in a determined manner to relaunch the peace process, which would include updating the Road Map in coordination with regional parties, he said.  The aim must be to ensure a political resolution leading to the creation of a viable and sovereign Palestinian State living in peace with Israel.  In that regard, France remained concerned at the continuing settlement process and the construction of the separation wall on Palestinian territory, as such actions compromised the viability of a future Palestinian State.

SHINICHI KITAOKA ( Japan) said that, in the past month, the international community had again witnessed “widespread and deeply troubling changes” in the Middle East.  It would be vitally important for everyone to ensure that all the parties sought the path to a comprehensive peace in the region as soon as possible.  Regarding the situation in Lebanon, although there had been some encouraging steps in the wake of the Council’s adoption of resolution 1701, including the general holding of the ceasefire and the expression of will to vastly upgrade UNIFIL, it was clear that the situation remained extremely fragile.  Japan would continue to call on all sides to exercise maximum restraint and to ensure that the ceasefire held firm and paved the way for a durable end to hostilities.

He said his country was deeply concerned about the situation of the Palestinian people -- the central issue in the Middle East question -- particularly since the abduction of Israeli soldiers two months ago.  Japan called on Israel to exercise restraint, and particularly to avoid civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.  At the same time, terrorist attacks against Israel must cease immediately, and Israel must end its military operations in Gaza and withdraw its troops at an early date.  Also, detained Palestinian Authority officials must be released.  It was more necessary than ever for the Palestinian Authority Cabinet, led by Hamas, to engage in negotiations based on existing agreements and obligations.  The international community must promote that view.  There was no alternative.  Israel must exercise restraint and Palestinian Authority President Abbas must shore up his leadership.  Japan was concerned by the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and would call on the international community, including Israel, to spare no effort to alleviate that situation.

ADMANTIOS VASSILAKIS ( Greece) said that, during the adoption of resolution 1701, Greece had been among the delegations that had stressed the need to reinvigorate and relaunch, in earnest, the Middle East peace process, in particular with regard to the question of Palestine, which lay at the heart of developments in the region.  The international community must not lose sight of the plight of the Palestinian people and of their legitimate aspiration for Statehood.  The humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was dire and Greece fully shared the Secretary-General’s concerns over the continued killing and injuring of hundreds of civilians, including children, in Gaza by Israeli forces.  Likewise, the arbitrary arrest of many senior Palestinians was a cause of particular concern since it further undermined the Palestinian institutions, which must be preserved if a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was to be achieved.

The long-term effects of the crisis in Lebanon on the wider region would depend, to a large degree, on how all the players in the region and the international community would react to it, he said.  They would also depend on the handling of the entire problem of the Middle East, in all its forms.  The current crisis could be turned into an opportunity for all those involved to realize that causes could not be promoted through violence and that, at the same time, security could not be guaranteed by military means alone.  The principles that should form the basis for a comprehensive and lasting peace in the region included all relevant Security Council resolutions, in particular resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973); the terms of reference of the Madrid Conference, including the principle of land for peace; and the Arab Peace initiative.  By adopting its resolution 1515 in 2003, the Council had endorsed the Road Map and called on the parties to fulfil their obligations for the achievement of the vision of two States living side by side in peace and security.

BEGUM TAJ (United Republic of Tanzania) said that, notwithstanding the unfortunate incidents over the weekend, his delegation hoped the ceasefire agreement could be translated into peace on the ground.  It was thus imperative to ensure that the ceasefire continued to hold and that its implementation was verified.  He welcomed the Secretary-General’s decision to dispatch a high-level mission to talk to the parties involved so as to secure full implementation of the resolution and looked forward to a report from the team after that mission.  He was also encouraged by the positive response from countries willing to contribute to a reinforced UNIFIL.  He expected full deployment of the Force in south Lebanon after clarification of the remaining sensitive issues pertaining to the concept of the operation, the rules of engagement and the specific mandate of the new Force.

In the humanitarian area, he commended the swift action taken to provide assistance to those in need as quickly as possible.  To enhance humanitarian operations, the air and sea blockade over Lebanon must be lifted, as a matter of urgency.  He appealed to all those helping the returnees to increase their efforts so as to prevent further human suffering.  In that connection, he noted with satisfaction that their safety was being considered, particularly in handling unexploded ordnance and landmines.

With regard to “the thorny Palestinian question”, he said that constructive measures must be deployed to resolve the unrest in Gaza.  A number of United Nations resolutions and other agreements provided a basis for a just and viable solution to the Middle East conflict, including that of Palestine.  As a long-term strategy, those resolutions should be revisited and implemented, including the withdrawal of Israel from all occupied territories.  In the short and immediate term, Hamas and Hizbollah should free the captured Israeli soldiers.  Israel, on its part, must release Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners from its jails.  Israel needed partners in the Middle East, rather than adversaries.  In the end, diplomacy, however slowly it worked, was a wiser and cheaper choice than war.  The one-month confrontation between Israel and Hizbollah had proven that point beyond any doubt.

HUGO PEREYRA ( Peru) said he trusted that the cessation of hostilities would serve as the beginning of the end of violence.  The violations of the ceasefire, such as those described in the Secretary-General’s report and committed by Israel, pointed to the extremely fragile situation.  A fundamental aspect of resolution 1701 was strengthening UNIFIL, which should be done as soon as possible.  The current situation had once again showed the importance for the United Nations to have reserve forces, standby forces, that which Peru had repeatedly urged.

Welcoming the presence of Mr. Roed-Larsen and Mr. Nambiar in the region, he said it was important that the principles and elements for a definitive resolution be considered by the Governments of Lebanon and Israel.  Peru also welcomed the proposals to be presented by the Secretary-General, in particular regarding the disarming of Hizbollah, as well as the border demarcation, including Shebaa Farms.  The humanitarian situation remained worrisome and Peru commended the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and other agencies that continued to do everything they could.

Regarding the situation in Palestine, he deplored any acts of violence and kidnapping, as well as the critical situation in which the Palestinian population had to live.  However, the Palestinian Authority Government had not met the requirements asked of it and the two-State solution would remain elusive if one party did not recognize the right of the other to exist.

DUŠAN MATULAY ( Slovakia) called on all parties to fully respect resolution 1701, exercise maximum restraint and avoid any actions that could lead to misinterpretation.  They should also allow the international community to assist with the rapid deployment and reinforcement of UNIFIL in order to achieve a long-term solution of the crisis.  Resolution 1701 –- which his country had co-sponsored -– provided an important basis for starting the process towards a comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Lebanese crisis.  He called on all States and relevant organizations, including the League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to exercise their influence on Hizbollah to stop its terrorist activities, including the firing of missiles against Israel.  There was no military solution to the Middle East conflict.  The only way to achieve a comprehensive and lasting settlement was through peaceful negotiations and full implementation of relevant resolutions, as well as the principles defined in the Road Map.

While recognizing the right of Israel to self-defence, he also underlined the need to exercise that right with utmost caution and restraint, doing everything possible to avoid losses of innocent lives, destruction of civilian infrastructure and suffering of civilians.  His delegation was particularly concerned about the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Lebanon and the exodus of people caused by military actions.  He highly appreciated the work of UNIFIL and international agencies, under very difficult circumstances, to help alleviate the suffering of internally displaced persons and refugees.

Lebanon’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence could be best achieved through full implementation of resolutions 1559 and 1680, he said.  Now, it was crucial to develop a plan for full implementation of those texts, especially for helping the Government of Lebanon to assume full control over the whole territory of the country and to disarm all militias.  It was also important to take appropriate measures against the illegal movement of arms and people through the borders of Lebanon and against hostile attacks against the territory of neighbouring states.  The international community should assist the Lebanese Government to achieve that goal.  It was necessary to expeditiously enhance the strength and mandate of UNIFIL to be able to cope effectively with the tasks envisioned in 1701.  And last but not least, it was necessary to address urgently the causes of the crisis, including the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers and the issue of the Lebanese citizens detained in Israel.

Regarding the deteriorating situation between Israel and the Palestinians, he said that the Palestinian Government led by Hamas had missed an important opportunity by its continued refusal to accept three principles defined by the Quartet as a precondition for becoming a reliable partner in the peace talks.  He hoped that President Abbas would be successful in his efforts to create appropriate support for the objectives of the Road Map among the Palestinian people.  The international community should provide him with its full support in that endeavour, also by addressing the urgent humanitarian needs of the Palestinian population through the Temporary International Mechanism administered by the European Union.  In that context, he urged Israel to resume transfers of withheld Palestinian tax and customs revenues.

NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER (Qatar) said that the Israeli breaches of the ceasefire, beginning with the military landing operation last Saturday and followed by continuous sorties by the Israeli Air Force over Lebanese territory, tested the will and credibility of the international community.  Furthermore, Israel’s air and sea embargo against Lebanon impeded humanitarian efforts, for which Qatar called upon the Council to obligate Israel to lift its embargo.  UNIFIL, too, must be reinforced by augmenting its numbers and equipment, since it was a vital element in the implementation of resolution 1701.

He said, however, that as much as Member States sought a permanent solution to the situation in Lebanon, they must not lose sight of events taking place in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Those events included the escalation of military operations and the detention of members of the Palestinian Government and legislature, in blatant violation of international law, instruments, norms and agreements between the two sides.  It also disrespected the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

It had become clear that the only way to end the region’s violence was through a permanent, comprehensive solution to the question of Palestine, he continued.  It was because of the failure to deal objectively with the root causes of the crisis that events in Lebanon, as well as those presently witnessed in Gaza, had taken place.  Accordingly, the Arab States intended to resubmit the question of the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Security Council next September, with the hope that it would lead to a solution on the basis of an international resolution affirming the need to end Israel’s occupation of Arab territories that it had held since 1967.

PASCAL GAYAMA (Congo) said the Secretary-General’s report on the initial implementation of resolution 1701 had given cause for cautious optimism, but is was clear that the delicate balance achieved with the adoption of that text was precarious, and all sides must work to ensure peace, security and respect for sovereignty.  The Congo condemned any violence, and would stress that confrontation and blockades would not lead to a durable solution.  The risky strategy of targeted assassination and kidnapping of high Palestinian officials mirrored the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers.

He called on the international community to shore up the Palestinian Authority, drawing on the assistance of regional organizations such as the League of Arab States.  On the Lebanese track, he said there was a need to assist the Lebanese Army in deploying throughout southern Lebanon, particularly along the “sensitive” Blue Line.  The fragility of the situation also called for the rapid deployment of an expanded UNIFIL to assist the Lebanese military.  Also, his delegation was gravely concerned by the humanitarian situation in Lebanon, and he applauded the valiant and heroic efforts of those relief workers who were continuing to ensure that aid reached desperate populations in need.  The use of force had sufficiently demonstrated its inadequacy to reveal to the parties the urgent need to shift expeditiously to a diplomatic course, namely through the implementation of existing agreements and Council resolutions aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace throughout the Middle East, with Israel living in security with its Arab neighbours.  The Council should do everything to accelerate the march toward a durable peace in the region, he added.

Council President NANA EFFAH-APENTENG (Ghana), speaking in his national capacity, expressed serious concern about the raid by Israeli commandos in the Bekaa Valley last Saturday, saying that irrespective of the reasons given for that action, his delegation viewed it as a violation of resolution 1701, which called for a full cessation of hostilities.  Ghana demanded nothing less from all parties than their scrupulous adherence to all the provisions of resolution 1701, including the arms embargo.

Welcoming the Lebanese Government’s prompt decision, which had led to the positioning of its troops in the area, he said it was imperative that an international force with a robust mandate be sent to southern Lebanon as soon as possible.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations should act expeditiously to remove any lingering doubts and anxieties about the concept of operations and the rules of engagement lest the ceasefire unravel.  It was to be hoped that, following the resolution of pertinent issues relating to the enlargement of UNIFIL, potential troop contributors would redeem their pledges and urgently dispatch their troops to Lebanon in order to meet the request for 3,500 troops by 2 September.  Ghana had already indicated its readiness to increase its current troop strength in UNIFIL from 650 to 850.

With many of the internally displaced persons returning to their original places of abode, most of the returnees had lost their houses and personal property, he continued.  Given those dire conditions, the response of the humanitarian agencies had been encouraging, but had not measured up to the required needs, since the Flash Appeal had only achieved about 52 per cent of its target.  Hopefully, the international community would be more generous when the revised Flash Appeal was launched next week.  Meanwhile, the United Nations should continue to play its leadership role and coordinate the agencies’ work to ensure maximum delivery to the affected people.  That goal would not be achieved if the current sea and air blockades were not lifted and the deplorable conditions of the roads and bridges were not salvaged.  Ghana also looked forward to the conference to be held in Sweden later this month in the hope that it would lead to the provision of assistance for the long-term recovery of southern Lebanon.

While preoccupied with the crisis in Lebanon, he said, the international community should not “let fall off the radar screen” the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which had the potential to degenerate into another all-out war.  Admittedly, it was not easy to resolve a conflict, which was not only a clash over territories, but also one of rights and memory -- a struggle between nationalist mythologies.  The Middle East could not be a cemetery of missed opportunities.  That the Palestinian question remained unresolved more than half a century after the original United Nations partition resolution was an indictment of the international community.  The Council, which had the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, should live up to its role and use its creative energies for a comprehensive and fair solution to the conflict, otherwise peace and security in the Middle East would continue to be elusive.

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said there was a fragile ceasefire in place and Member States were assembling a force to bring peace and security to Lebanon.  In spite of the month’s delay, the Council was carrying out its Charter responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security and it was to be hoped that, one day soon, it would also act to uphold its responsibilities regarding the question of Palestine by ending the grievous violations of international law that continued to be committed by Israel, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  The question of Palestine and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had been the source of almost every threat to peace and security in the Middle East.

Noting that Arab Foreign Ministers had determined to bring the question of Palestine back to the Council and to seek a high-level meeting on it in September, he said that decision, despite the Council’s repeated inability to address the situation and its failure to uphold numerous resolutions, had been taken on the basis of the Council’s rightful role in the maintenance of peace and security and the upholding of international law.  The peace process of the last 15 years had not brought an end to Israel’s occupation.  The lives of the Palestinian people had deteriorated steadily and Israel had continued its unlawful campaign of settler colonialism.  Moreover, it had now nearly completed the construction of the wall on confiscated land.

The Palestinian civilian population continued to suffer from Israel’s ongoing military aggression, he continued.  That military campaign over the past months had involved the excessive use of force, extrajudicial killings, destruction of vital infrastructure, detention and imprisonment of hundreds of Palestinian civilians, and the collective punishment of the entire population, including the holding of more than 9,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.  All of that, in addition to the financial crisis imposed on the Palestinian Authority in recent months following the January elections, had caused a grave humanitarian crisis.  More than 3,400 Palestinians were now internally displaced and had sought shelter in United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) installations, due to the fact that hundreds of families had been forced to flee their homes in Gaza after receiving threatening telephone calls from the Israeli occupying forces -- a new tactic of psychological warfare.  A three-day-old girl had fallen from her mother’s arms and died as she fled in search of refuge from a “pre-warned” Israeli missile attack.  Elements of the recently vetoed draft resolution concerning the situation in Gaza continued to be relevant for there had been no cessation of hostilities, no withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces, no release of detained elected officials, and no repair of vital infrastructure destroyed by the occupying Power.

He said that, overall, the prevailing situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, had not only compounded the suffering of the Palestinian people, but also their frustration, desperation and anger, thus leading to the decision by the Arab countries to return to the Council.  Hopefully, the Council would, very soon, meet at a high level and undertake serious and concrete actions towards the long-desired achievement of a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict as a whole, and thus peace, security, coexistence and prosperity for all the peoples of the Middle East region.

DAN GILLERMAN ( Israel) said some key words from the Palestinian representative had been missing.  There had been no mention of words such as Hamas, terror, Qassam rockets, the abduction of an Israeli soldier.  When discussing the question of Palestine, the members of the Council deserved better.  It would be wrong to divert attention from what the Council had been engaged in, namely the situation in Lebanon and implementation of resolution 1701.  As a lot had been said about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, he informed the Council that Israel was conscious of that situation, and thousands of trucks with food and assistance had passed into Gaza.

He said the reason for today’s debate went back to six years ago, when Israel had withdrawn its presence from southern Lebanon under resolution 425 (1978).  Six years ago, everything that had passed in the past month could have been avoided.  Unconditional implementation of resolutions 1559 and 1680 could also have prevented the events of the last month.  But the willingness to implement those resolutions had been wanting.  As a result, “ Lebanon found itself hijacked by evil and occupied by terror”.  On 12 July, Hizbollah had blatantly violated the Blue Line, killed eight Israeli soldiers and abducted two others.

He said resolution 1701 was an opportunity –- “perhaps the last opportunity” -– to rectify the mistakes of the past and to reverse the corrosive decay of Lebanon and all that came with it:  Hizbollah, a State within a State, and its masters Syria and Iran.  He trusted in resolution 1701 to create a new Lebanon free of such terrorizing occupiers.  Israel viewed the immediate and unconditional release of the two abducted soldiers as the primary backdrop to the creation of a new reality.  The strength and composition of UNIFIL was also a crucial issue.  It must not just have the manpower, but also the willpower to help the Lebanese Government reach the new reality.  UNIFIL must also be geographically distributed.

Border crossings must also be watched, he said.  The border between Syria and Lebanon remained a hotbed for smuggling and weapons transport.  Iran and Syria were already working to rearm Hizbollah.  Such rearming was a blatant violation of the ceasefire.  The embargo was the cardinal instrument of resolution 1701.  “If we cannot enforce an embargo, we send a message to the terrorists and their State backers that we will permit them to continue their ways of terror.”  Mechanisms were, therefore, needed to supervise the Syrian-Lebanese border and to monitor seaports and airports.  An embargo did not mean merely preventing arms from crossing the border, it also meant an end to Syria and Iran’s manipulation of Lebanon and its people.

He said, “The Middle East is a region caught between rifts of extremism, where radicals engage in fierce battles that have no rules of play.  Israel finds itself lodged between these currents, trying to navigate a peaceful solution to the turmoil and allow civilization to grow and prosper as it should.”  Israel had also been attacked from the south.  Gaza today was a haven for terrorists.  Hamas had also abducted an Israeli soldier.  Terrorism had continued, including through the launching of Qassam rockets.  However, there was also a way to a new Palestinian reality.  It began with the immediate and unconditional release of Gilad Shalit and with a halt to the Qassam rockets and terror attacks.

“ Israel has been blanketed, from north to south, by these forces of extremism, by Hamas, Hizbollah, Syria and Iran –- the Quartet of Terror –- whose evil knows no bounds”, he said.  “The Quartet of Terror must be defeated.  It is a threat not just to Israel, but to the entire world –- and civilization as we know it.”  Implementation of resolution 1701 was a first step in defeating that threat.  Resolution 1701 was a test for Lebanon, the Council and for the international community.  “Resolution 1701 can be our success story…  It can be the story we take pride in, as the defining moment when we rose to the occasion and did not let the terrorists rule us.”  It remained the duty of the international community and the Council to ensure that the story came true, he said in conclusion.

OLA BREVIK ( Norway) encouraged the parties to do their utmost to maintain the cessation of hostilities and transform it into a lasting ceasefire, supporting the Secretary-General’s view that the recent Israeli military operation in the Bekaa Valley had violated that cessation of hostilities.  While the parties bore the main responsibility to implement resolution 1701, all States in the region must contribute constructively towards that goal.

He said the rapid deployment of a reinforced UNIFIL was vital and the Norwegian Government was considering a contribution to the Force, provided that satisfactory rules of engagement were in place.  Meanwhile, the Lebanese Government and the international donor community must identify the humanitarian needs in Lebanon.  Norway had allocated $22 million to the cause, with an additional $1.6 million to remove oil spills on the coast of Lebanon.

He was also deeply concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, saying that Israel’s prevention of goods from entering Gaza was hurting the entire Palestinian population.  Norway strongly urged all parties to return to the peace process on the basis of the Road Map.

CAROLINE ZIADE ( Lebanon) said she was addressing the Council a little more than 10 days after its adoption of resolution 1701, which, while it had not addressed all Lebanese concerns, had dealt with the overall issue with “great seriousness”.  Indeed, the text had put an end to 33 days of havoc wreaked by Israel that had, in the end, pushed Lebanon 30 years into the past.  The massive number of civilian death and displacement, as well as the destruction of civilian infrastructure by Israel, had been unimaginable.  But the Lebanese Government had shaken off the dust of war and had committed to implementing the resolution -- indeed, the Lebanese Cabinet had decided to deploy the Lebanese Army into southern Lebanon, reaffirming respect for the Blue Line, as well as the intention to exercise full sovereignty over its wider territory.

Her country, gravely wounded, had vowed to rise again, restore its sovereignty and implement the text.  But Israel, “the henchman”, continued its aggression and daily violation of resolutions 1701 and 425.  Since 17 August, 82 air violations had taken place, and Israel continued its occupation of many areas in southern Lebanon.   Israel also continued to use explosives and sniper fire to cut down civilians, all in the name of self-defence.

Regardless of the justification, the actions by Israel were “offensive” and aggressive.  No matter what Israel said, it was contravening international law.  She said Israel had hampered expansion of the United Nations Force, and that country’s Defence Minister had showered Lebanon with threats to return to war.  She called on the Council to press ahead expeditiously with UNIFIL’s expansion.  The Council and the wider international community should also press for the release of all Lebanese prisoners and ensure that Lebanon was rebuilt and its former prosperity was revived.   Lebanon would call on the international community to ensure that Israel abided by all resolutions and obligations set out in texts regarding its illegal activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as those regarding the Lebanese peace track.

JARL-HǺKAN ROSENGREN ( Finland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, commended the way in which parties had coordinated with UNIFIL on the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces and the deployment of the Lebanese Army.  The international community must move swiftly to deploy troops in southern Lebanon; indeed, some European Union countries had already decided to send troops, while other were still considering.  Meanwhile, it was important that all States in the region first contribute to reducing tensions so that resolution 1701 could be fully implemented.

He said air and sea blockades must be lifted as soon as possible to allow unimpeded access to Lebanon for humanitarian operations.  In addition to the basic needs of water and temporary shelter, support was also urgently needed in the disposal of unexploded ordnance and the cleaning up of oil spills.  The European Union had already committed €74 million to relief work and a Relief and Early Recovery Conference, to be hosted by Sweden on 31 August, would provide an important forum for discussing such issues.  Finland’s Minister for Development, Paula Lehtomäki, and European Union Commissioner Louis Michel had visited the region last week to assess humanitarian needs from a European Union perspective.

The European Union was also concerned about the situation in the Palestinian territories, he added.  Recent developments posed a risk of a further deterioration of civilian infrastructure in the region, and both Israel and the Palestinian Authority must address the situation.  The abducted Israeli soldier must be released quickly and unconditionally, and the parties must return to the peace process on the basis of the Road Map.  There must be unequivocal commitment by all parties to a viable, independent Palestine.  There was no military solution to any of the region’s problems.

Source: UN