Under-Secretary-General, briefing Security Council, describes ‘alarming escalation of violence’ between Israelis, Palestinians

Ibrahim A. Gambari (second from left), Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefs the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at UN Headquarters in New York. (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

With an alarming escalation of violence, the tragic events of November had once again highlighted the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could not be resolved through force, the United Nations senior political official told the Security Council this morning.

“We have seen another month of violence in the Middle East –- one that for the tragedy of Beit Hanoun will almost certainly be remembered as a dark hour in this very long conflict”, Ibrahim Gambari, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs said.

Stressing the critical importance of returning to the political track to resolve the current stalemate, he noted that intense confrontations between the Israeli Defense Forces and Palestinian militants had taken place, as Israel’s military operation in Gaza entered its sixth month. In addition to the high number of human casualties as a result of the incursions in Beit Hanoun, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimated there to be $3.7 million in damages to local infrastructure. As a result, the General Assembly’s emergency session had requested the Secretary-General to send a fact-finding mission and report back in 30 days.

Civilians on both sides had suffered from the conflict, with Palestinians mourning the loss and injury of more than 240 friends and relatives in Beit Hanoun, and Israelis, only a few kilometres away, in the town of Sderot, grieving the death of one person and the injury of 14 others who had been hit by Palestinian rocket fire. Palestinian militants had fired over 200 rockets and mortars into the western Negev region, including several that had struck during the visit today of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, in Sderot, causing one death, multiple injuries and significant damage.

Noting that both Israelis and Palestinians needed reassurance that the prospect of actually solving the conflict was not dead, he said new initiatives from the international community were taking shape. In that connection, a reinvigorated third-party intervention might help to push the parties to move beyond the current impasse.

At the current moment, however, it was difficult to see a breakthrough without the establishment of a new Palestinian Government, he added. Movement in the right direction should be encouraged by the international community and rewarded when it occurred. Progress on the regional track was also necessary to stabilize an increasingly volatile situation in the Middle East. He hoped that, with the international community’s assistance, Israeli, Palestinian and other regional leaders would be able to achieve such progress before the end of the year. “The people of the region deserved no less,” he said.

Following Mr. Gambari’s briefing, speakers agreed that military action would not resolve the long-standing conflict, but would only exacerbate the already volatile situation in the Middle East. Progress would only be possible through the cessation of violence and urgent action towards a comprehensive settlement based on Council resolutions, the Road Map and the Quartet’s proposals.

Council members also joined in condemning the today’s assassination of Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel. France’s representative, describing the assassination as a new attempt to destabilize Lebanon by violence, intimidation and assassination, noted that, at a time when the Council was taking up the establishment of an international tribunal for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Harriri, it was important to ensure that those who used violence would not go unpunished. There would be no peace without justice in Lebanon. An international conference should be organized shortly to revive the hopes of the people in the region and overcome the current stalemate.

The Observer of Palestine welcomed the initiative on the immediate ceasefire in the region — supported by France, Italy and Spain — as well as support for a Palestinian unity Government, talks between Israel’s Prime Minster and the Palestinian President, the exchange of prisoners between the two parties, an international mission in Gaza to monitor a ceasefire and the convening of an international peace conference. While the Council had once again failed the Palestinian people by failing to condemn Israel’s actions in Gaza, they continued to hope that the Council would use its authority to address the issue.

Israel’s representative said the real situation in the Middle East could not be gathered from reports or endless debates. The real situation in the Middle East was the situation on the ground. Today’s assassination of a man of liberalism, pluralism and moderation was just another sign of that situation -– a situation that could change overnight if Iran and Syria relinquished terror, Hamas accepted the international community’s demands and the Hamas-led Palestinian Government stopped firing Qassam rockets into Israel. It was a decision only the Palestinian people could take and the parties could resolve. If his neighbours made the right choice, they would be surprised by how far Israel would be wiling to go to secure a reality of peace and prosperity of two States living side by side in the war torn region.

Joining the debate, the representatives of Iran said the international community should not allow Israeli military aggressions against an exhausted and defenceless civilian population to continue, and should denounce Israel’s scorn for international law and its contempt for the principles and purposes of the United Nations. Cuba’s representative, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the Council’s inaction not only affected its credibility, but also strengthened the impunity with which Israel’s Government acted. Calling for the full implementation of the Assembly’s recent resolution, including the dispatch of a fact-finding mission into the events in Beit Hanoun, he said the Council could not remain idle while Israel violated its resolutions.

Other Council members participating in the debate were the United Republic of Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Japan, China, Qatar (on behalf of the Arab Group), Slovakia, Argentina, Denmark, United States, Greece, Russian Federation and Peru. The representative of Finland, on behalf of the European Union, also spoke.

The meeting began at 10:20 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m.

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