Security Council delays, awaits high-level UN team

The Arab Group in the UN met late on Monday to discuss the current situation in Lebanon. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

NEW YORK - The United Nations Security Council met Monday to discuss the current volatile situation on the ground in Lebanon, but the majority of council members have decided to delay any sort of reaction to the Israeli shelling of Lebanon and the Hezbollah rocket launches, until the UN high-level team reports back to the UN Secretary-General mid-week.

“The Secretary-General expressed his intention to work with Security Council members on a package of actions that is practical and requires the parties to release their abductees, stop the rockets, and has Israel cease its retaliatory actions,” said top UN political affairs official Ibrahim Gambari after he briefed the council. He also spoke of the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

For Qatar, the lone Arab representation on the council, the question of a ceasefire should have been answered earlier. “We are late. We should have taken action two days, ago, not today, not tomorrow,” said Ambassador Nassir al-Nasser. “As Qatar, we want to see a cease-fire before anything else because we can save thousands of lives of innocent people,” he said.

The Arab Group in the UN met late on Monday to discuss the current situation in Lebanon. Following a briefing by the Lebanese Ambassador, it issued a statement calling for an “immediate and comprehensive ceasefire under the auspices of the UN”.

Saudi Arabian Ambassador Fawzi Shobokshi, the acting president of the Arab Group for July, also called for the immediate end to the blockade of Lebanon, pushed for the exercise of Lebanon’s sovereignty over its own territories, and asked for humanitarian aid and assistance for the people of Lebanon.

UN agencies estimate that 400,000 people have left their homes in Lebanon, with many more expected if the bombardment continues. A UN humanitarian assessment team is scheduled to arrive in Beirut on Wednesday, while a flash appeal for relief aid is expected early next week.

Over 200 Lebanese have been estimated killed since Israel launched air strikes last Wednesday in retaliation for the two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hizbullah, an armed Lebanese militia. According to a Human Rights Watch report on Tuesday, more than 800 rockets have been fired into Israel from southern Lebanon since 13 July, killing 12 civilians and wounding many more.

US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton made a difference between those killed in Lebanon versus those killed in Israel. “I think it would be a mistake to ascribe a moral equivalence to civilians who die as the direct result of malicious terrorist acts, the very purpose of which terrorist acts are to kill civilians and the tragic and unfortunate consequence of civilian deaths as a result of military action taken in self-defense,” he said.

The council also held an emergency meeting last Saturday to discuss the Lebanese situation but members could not agree on immediate steps on Monday. Nouhad Mahmoud, a Lebanese foreign ministry official at the U.N., remained frustrated at the US response. “They were always supportive in the last one-and-a-half years, but when it comes to Israel it seems things change,” he said.

French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said that he could understand the frustration of the Lebanese. “But my answer is that the Council has done a lot for Lebanon, resolution 1559, for instance,” he said.

Resolution 1559 calls on the fully sovereign and independent state of Lebanon to operate without the interference of foreign and domestic militias, including Hezbollah. While most Security Council members invoked the need to implement the resolution, members were not in agreement on how to proceed.

After the meeting, Bolton said that the quickest way to end the conflict would be for Hizbollah to return the soldiers to Israel. Bolton acknowledged UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s call for a possible new peacekeeping force to stabilize the region, but hinted at other options.

“There may be other ways of providing assistance to the Lebanese armed forces. There may be more armed forces that could be considered along the lines of the Multi-National Force and observers in the Sinai rather than a UN peacekeeping force,” he said. “These are all questions we have to ask and have answered,” he added.

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