June 21st, 2007 05:53 EST
Middle East: UN envoy voices concern on highly volatile region
Hamas’ violent seizure of de facto political authority in Gaza, the demise of the Palestinian National Unity Government and the declaration of a state of emergency by President Mahmoud Abbas have created new political realities and worrying conditions across the occupied Palestinian territory, the United Nations Middle East envoy warned today.
Addressing an open meeting of the Security Council, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Michael Williams also said that renewed violence has threatened the stability of Lebanon and that Israel has faced fresh rocket attacks on its northern front.
“The region as a whole is highly volatile and unstable, overshadowing efforts to make political progress,” Mr. Williams said during his briefing on the Middle East’s latest developments.
Describing Hamas’ takeover of control in the Gaza Strip as “well planned and executed,” he condemned “the brutal violence… and the attacks on the legitimate institutions of President Abbas and the PA [Palestinian Authority] government” as totally unacceptable and said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon regretted the failure of the National Unity Government.
“Despite what has happened, Gaza and the West Bank remain one Palestinian territory, legally administered by one Palestinian Authority headed by President Abbas, who has appointed an emergency government led by Prime Minister [Salam] Fayyad.”
Mr. Williams said it was now vital that Israel and the international community immediately deliver political and financial support to Mr. Abbas and the Palestinian government, including by releasing all previously withheld Palestinian customs and tax revenue.
“What is also needed is action on previous Israeli commitments, including the evacuation of settlement outposts, removal of roadblocks and checkpoints and release of prisoners. Equally, Fatah and the PA should act on previous commitments, not only to end violence, but to thoroughly reform its institutions.”
The UN’s most immediate humanitarian concern is to re-open the crossings between Israel and Gaza for commercial and humanitarian imports, the envoy told the Council, especially as the situation in Gaza has stabilized and food and medical shortages there have mounted.
In response later to a question from journalists, Mr. Williams welcomed Israel’s move this morning to allow a number of people seeking urgent medical care to cross from Gaza.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that crossing points into and out of Gaza remain largely closed, and increasing food shortages are expected in the coming weeks.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes called on Israel and the Palestinian authorities to regularize access for essential goods to prevent a further deterioration of the situation.
The World Food Programme (WFP) reported that seven of its trucks successfully crossed into Gaza yesterday, and another nine trucks crossed today, carrying basic commodities. A separate truck brought medical supplies yesterday as well.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is aiming to send vaccines and medical and emergency kits, as well as fuel for urgent sanitation and water needs, to Gaza.
Turning to Lebanon in his briefing, Mr. Williams expressed concern about last week’s assassination of the lawmaker Walid Eido and nine others in a Beirut bombing, and the continuing violence between the Lebanese Armed Forces and Fatah el-Islam gunmen at a Palestinian refugee camp in the north of the country.
He also noted that two Katyusha rockets were fired on Sunday from southern Lebanon at the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, causing minor damage but no casualties, and called it “a most serious violation” of the Security Council resolution ending last year’s war between the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Hizbollah.