Briefing the Security Council this morning on the situation in the Middle East, Danilo Türk, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said the region had seen an increase in violence, death and suffering during the last month, but a “small window of opportunity for restarting the peace process” remained open.
In the aftermath of Sunday’s suicide bombing, however, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon had called off his planned meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Qurei, Mr. Türk noted. He urged the two men to meet in the very near future. The bloody stalemate that had characterized the peace process for too long would only be broken when the parties met at the highest level and began to work together to implement the Quartet’s Road Map. Their partnership was the essential base on which the peace process must be built.
Deeming it important, at this critical juncture, for the Israeli Government to provide a timetable for its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Mr. Türk said he hoped that Prime Minister Sharon’s welcome decision to withdraw the Israeli presence from Gaza could be a positive contribution to the search for peace.
He added that the withdrawal should have four main features, in order to garner the broad support of the international community and strengthen its chances for success. It should be carried out as part of the Quartet’s Road Map, which remained the only plan to which the parties and the international community subscribed, and in partnership with the Palestinian Authority, the only partner for such an action. Also, the withdrawal should be full and complete. Finally, it should be considered by all as a first step towards the fulfilment of the United Nations’ calls to the Israeli Government to end its occupation as set forth in Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 1397.
Meanwhile, with the crisis continuing unabated, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) might soon be obliged to severely cut back its emergency activities due to a sharp drop in its emergency funding, he said. The Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis was also continuing. Donor funds had made up for the shortfall in revenues in January, but donor support had initially been envisaged as development assistance in anticipation of the establishment of a PalestinianState. Donors had not contemplated providing long-term budgetary assistance to maintain the Authority, but the ongoing conflict had significantly altered those expectations.
The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and was adjourned at 10:31 a.m.
BRIEFING BY ASSISTANT SECRETARY-GENERAL
DANILO TÜRK, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that since the last Secretariat briefing, the Middle East had seen an increase in violence, death and suffering. At the same time, the small window of opportunity for restarting the peace process described last month by Terje Roed-Larsen remained open.
In the aftermath of Sunday’s suicide bombing, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon had called off his planned meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Qurei. Mr. Türk urged the two men to meet. The bloody stalemate that had characterized the peace process for too long would only be broken when the parties met at the highest level and began to work together to implement the Quartet’s Road Map. Their partnership was the essential base on which the peace process must be built. He hoped the meeting would be rescheduled in the very near future.
Despite the rise in violence, the possibility of peace remained open, he said. Prime Minister Sharon’s welcome decision to withdraw the Israeli presence from the Gaza Strip had attracted substantial attention during the period under review. That proposed initiative could be a positive contribution to the search for peace. To garner the broad support for the international community, and strengthen its chances for success, the withdrawal should have four main features.
It should, he continued, be carried out as part of the Quartet’s Road Map, which remained, despite a lack of implementation, the only plan to which the parties and the international community subscribed. It should occur in consultation and partnership with the Palestinian Authority, the only partner for such an action. The withdrawal should be full and complete. Finally, it should be considered by all as a first step towards the fulfilment of the United Nations calls to the Israeli Government to end its occupation as set forth in Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 1397. At the current juncture, it would be important that the Israeli Government provide a timetable for the withdrawal.
In the meantime, the violence continued unabated, he stated. Since the last briefing, 101 people had lost their lives to the conflict - 80 Palestinians and 21 Israelis. That brought the death toll since September 2000 to 946 Israelis and 3,245 Palestinians. The toll from Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip had grown in the past several months. Especially disturbing was the number of civilians, including children, who were killed and wounded in such actions. In addition, Israel had carried out extrajudicial killing during the reporting period. He restated his opposition to such unlawful acts and called on the Israeli Government to cease that policy, which too often resulted in the death and injury of civilian bystanders.
Israel had a duty to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks that emanated from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It had a concomitant responsibility under international law to protect the lives of the civilians in the territory it occupied. In the aftermath of an operation carried out on 7 March that resulted in the deaths of 14, including several children, the Secretary-General had called on the Israeli Government to abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law to avoid civilian casualties and to desist from the use of disproportionate force in densely populated areas. Such acts must cease.
The reporting period also had seen continuation of terrorist attacks targeted at Israeli civilians. He repeated his condemnation of attacks such as those that took place on 22 February on a Jerusalem bus and on 14 March in Ashdod. No cause could justify such acts. He called on the Palestinian Authority to take up its security responsibilities under the Road Map. It was imperative that those who plan, carry out and facilitate terrorist acts be brought to justice.
While the crisis continued unabated, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) might soon be obliged to severely cut back its emergency activities due to a sharp drop in its emergency funding. Of the $193 million in emergency funding requested for 2004, only $45 million had been pledged so far, and the prospects for further contributions were uncertain. The Agency’s work until now had been essential to the 1.6 million Palestine refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory, of whom 1.1 million had been receiving emergency food aid from UNRWA. Any further drop in its delivery of food and other emergency aid would quickly cause already depressed socio-economic indicators to fall dramatically.
Mr. Türk said the Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis was continuing. According to the Authority, in January, domestic revenues had declined to less than $12 million, which was considerably lower than the annual monthly average for 2003. Donor funds had made up for the shortfall in revenues. Donor support had initially been envisaged as development assistance in anticipation of the establishment of a Palestinian State. Donors had not contemplated providing long-term budgetary assistance to maintain the Authority, but the ongoing conflict had significantly altered those expectations.
During most of the reporting period, West Bank Barrier construction and related land levelling had continued at a rapid pace in sections around Jerusalem and Ramallah, he said. Last week, however, the Israeli High Court of Justice had extended a freeze until 17 March on construction of a section north-west of Jerusalem to examine petitions brought by eight Palestinian villages. This week, the Court had ordered the Government to respond to petitioners’ claims that the Barrier harmed Palestinian villagers. The Government had agreed to modify certain plans and negotiate with villages regarding others. Security Council members were aware of the current proceedings before the International Court of Justice, which was considering an advisory opinion on the matter.
He noted that Israeli authorities had started on 22 February to dismantle the eight kilometres of Barrier that isolated the villages of Baqa al-Sharqia and Nazlat `Issa from the rest of West Bank. Three gates, including one agriculture gate in Zayta, had been taken down, allowing freer access for farmers to land in the area. He welcomed that development, but he reiterated the call to the Government of Israel not to build the Barrier on Palestinian land.
In south Lebanon, he said he remained concerned about the improvised explosive device planted by Hizbollah along the Blue Line near Ramyah, which the Israel Defence Forces had attempted unsuccessfully to remove in January. The placement of the improvised explosive devices along the Blue Line posed a threat to international peace and security. Those devices were dangerous and could disrupt stability in the area. They also directly threatened United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) soldiers and the local population on both sides of the Line. The UNIFIL and the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General for Southern Lebanon were continuing to pursue that matter with the Lebanese authorities.
He said that Israeli air violations of Lebanon’s airspace also continued to be of concern. On 10 March, the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative had issued a statement critical of those acts after six air violations had been recorded. Seven rounds of anti-aircraft fire emanating from the Lebanese side of the Line had also been recorded. Both parties must be urged to refrain from those activities, which could provoke incidents and, in the case of live fire, also risk human lives.
Turning to the problem of the Iraqi Kurdish migrants temporarily accommodated at the Naqoura crossing, he said that matter had been resolved earlier this month when the Kurds had agreed to a voluntary transfer to another location inside Lebanon to await possible repatriation to Iraq. The relocation was effected by the Lebanese Internal Security Forces in consultation with UNIFIL, the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
At the last briefing, he recalled, Mr. Roed-Larsen had spoken of the parties’ having another chance for peace. Mr. Türk reiterated that call for “seriousness of purpose” in implementing the Road Map on the part of the parties, as well as the international community. The international community, in particular, the partners that made up the Quartet, must do everything in its power to assist the parties to move back to the negotiating table. Hopefully, the Gaza Strip withdrawal initiative, which earlier this week had been approved by Israel’s Knesset, was the bold step necessary to restart the peace process.
In conclusion, he said there was an urgency to address that problem, as violence continued to claim too many lives. It was in everyone’s interest - Israelis, Palestinians, and members of the international community - to work “quickly and earnestly” to implement the Road Map to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace based on Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515.