1 August 2006
Immediate, Comprehensive Ceasefire Needed in Lebanon Prior to Political Discussion, Acting Foreign Minister Tells Security Council
Israeli Ambassador Says Lebanon Taken Hostage by Terrorism, His Country in Lebanon Only to Protect Itself Against Blatant Act of War
NEW YORK, 31 July (UN Headquarters) -- Having requested an urgent meeting of the Security Council today, Lebanon's Minister of Culture and Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs said that, while he had come to reaffirm that a political settlement would bring an end to the violence, he also wished to forcefully reiterate his Government's call for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire, as the necessary prelude to a political discussion.
Tarek Mitri told the 15-member body that no political settlement could emerge amid the severe bombardment of Lebanon's towns and villages, bridges and shelters. The onslaught, which continued unabated, had to stop. He had come from Beirut to the United Nations Security Council bearing images of horror and hope -- hope that no one would ever see what he had seen or heard, or turn away from what he had brought. He had also come to ask for a setting in motion the process of an international investigation with regard to the crime of Qana -- "Qana the Second".
The first massacre, dubbed "Grapes of Wrath", had taken place in Qana in 1996, he recalled. Yesterday, an Israeli jet had dropped two bombs on a house sheltering dozens of elderly, women and children, killing 62 of them, including 35 children, who had been buried under the rubble. The spilt blood of the children deserved much more than expressions of regret. (For details, see Press Releases SC/8789 and SC/8791 of 30 July.)
Tired of the self-righteous discourse about the right to self-defence, he said that, while mistakes were made in wars, how many mistakes had Israel committed against the Lebanese people -- in 1969, in 1978, in 1982, in 1993, in 1996, in 1999, and now? When mistakes were a pattern of behaviour, they qualified as crimes. The international community owed his people an honourable way out of the war, a solution that did not permit further destruction and that would help rebuild a nation that was being reconstructed, especially in the last year. "Let Lebanon not be the battleground for any war that served the interests of others; let it not be the battleground of the wars of others," he said.
Israel's Ambassador, Daniel Gillerman, agreed that there should not be a return to the status quo ante, and that Lebanon should never again be the battleground of others. The Minister had also repeatedly recalled Israel's actions against Lebanon, but, he had failed to say why those actions had been taken. Israel had never had any claim over Lebanon, but had repeatedly been compelled to act, not against Lebanon, but against the monster that Lebanon had allowed to hold it hostage. Lebanon had been taken over time and again by tyrants in the north, namely Syria, who regarded northern Lebanon as "southern Syria". Lebanon had been taken hostage by terrorism of the worst kind -- the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1980s and the Hizbollah in the 1990s.
Israel was in Lebanon today only to protect itself against a blatant act of war -- the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and the shelling of Israeli cities and towns by thousands of rockets, which represented only a fraction of the weapons that Lebanon had allowed to be amassed in the south of its country, he said. Lebanon had allowed the country to become a "hotbed of violence and a cesspool of terrorism". The children of Lebanon did not need Qana to hate the Israelis; all they had to do was read the textbooks of Hizbollah or go to their places of prayer. After Israel had withdrawn from every inch of Lebanon, violence against Israel could not be justified. And, Lebanon had said it wanted Shebaa Farms back -- they should ask the Syrians to give it back. Israel could not give Lebanon back something that was not Israel's, he said.
The meeting began at 3:15 p.m. and ended at 3:50 p.m.
TAREK MITRI, Minister of Culture and Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs of Lebanon, said he had come from Beirut bearing images of horror and signs of grief, as well as anger and hope. He trusted that the Council would not turn away from those images. He expressed appreciation for the efforts that had led to yesterday's presidential statement. He also commended the Secretary-General, and joined him in affirming that the Council's authority and standing were at stake.
While appreciating such efforts, he said he had come to reiterate forcefully the call of the Lebanese Government for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire. The onslaught continued unabated and needed to stop. He had also come to ask for the setting in motion of a process of international investigation with regard to the crime of Qana -- "Qana the second" -- as another massacre had taken place there in 1996, during the operation entitled "grapes of wrath". The facts were by now known to all. Israeli jets had killed dozens of elderly, disabled people and children sheltered in the basement of an unfinished house. Sixty-two persons, including 35 children had been buried under the rubble. He had left his country crying out against what all Lebanese perceived to be an unjustified collective punishment imposed on a civilian population. "The spilled blood of the children in Qana deserves much more than expressions of regret," he said.
Some were tired of listening to a self-righteous discourse about self-defence, he said. He had heard ad nauseam that mistakes were committed in times of war. But, how many mistakes had Israel committed against the Lebanese people, including in 1969, 1978, 1982, 1993, 1996 and 1999? When mistakes were a pattern of behaviour they deserved another name -- crime. All had heard again and again the justification that fighters were in the midst of the civilian population. He would not argue about that justification, except that it was a blatant violation of international law. Article 48 of the 1977 Protocol to the Geneva Convention stated that the presence within the civilian population of individuals who did not come within the definition of civilians did not deprive the population of its civilian character. The Qana massacre was a crime against civilians, no matter what the pretext or justification. The killing must stop.
None of Israel's previous aggressions had achieved its stated aim, he said. Today's aggression needed to end. Returning to the status quo ante would be futile. In the name of his people, he called on the Council to assist them in ending the human tragedy. That could be achieved through an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire and declaration of agreement based on, among other things, the release the Lebanese and Israeli prisoners and detainees through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); the withdrawal of the Israeli army behind the Blue Line; the return of the displaced to their villages; and the Council's commitment to place the Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shuba hills under United Nations jurisdiction until border delineation and Lebanese sovereignty over them was fully settled. While in United Nations custody, the area would be accessible to Lebanese property owners there.
Outlining further provisions of such an agreement, he said the Lebanese Government would extend its authority over its territory through its own legitimate armed forces, such that there would be no weapons or authority other than of the Lebanese State as stipulated in the Taif Accord. The United Nations international force operating in southern Lebanon would be supplemented and enhanced in numbers, equipment, mandate and scope of operation, in order to undertake urgent humanitarian and relief work, and guarantee stability and security in the south, so that those who fled their homes could return. The United Nations, in cooperation with relevant parties, would undertake the necessary measures to put in effect the 1948 armistice agreement between Israel and Lebanon, and ensure adherence to the provisions of that agreement and explore amendments of said the provisions. The international community would commit to supporting Lebanon at all levels, and assist it in facing the tremendous burden resulting from the humanitarian and social tragedy afflicting the country.
The international community owed his people an honourable way out of the war, he said. The Council owed them a solution that would not allow further destruction and would help rebuild the nation -- a nation that had for many years been rebuilding and reconstructing, especially in the last year. Lebanon represented a country of plurality and tolerance. It should not be the battleground for wars that served the interests of others.
He said he had come today on behalf of his Government, hoping to be heard. He had come to cry out loud on behalf of his nation's right to live in dignity. Lebanon reaffirmed its unity as a nation. In the face of tragedy, Lebanon was more united than ever. While his country had overcome many wars and destruction, Lebanon would rise again. "Let this be your choice, too. Do not allow war, desolation and hatred to prevail", he concluded.
DANIEL GILLERMAN (Israel) said he agreed that there should not be a return to the status quo ante, and that Lebanon should never again be the battleground of others. The Minister had also repeatedly recalled Israel's actions against Lebanon, but he had failed to say why those actions had been taken. Israel had never had any claim over Lebanon, but it had repeatedly been compelled to act, not against Lebanon, but against the monster that Lebanon had allowed to hold it hostage. Lebanon had been taken over time and again by tyrants in the north, namely Syria, who regarded northern Lebanon as "southern Syria". Lebanon had been taken hostage by terrorism of the worst kind -- the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1980s and the Hizbollah in the 1990s. When would Lebanon finally take its fate into its own hands? he asked.
He said that a litany of tragedies and misery did not make for policy or good politics. Lebanon had had several chances to be sovereign and to take its fate into its own hands. It had a chance six years ago, when Israel had left the country completely. Lebanon could have made a choice to return to its sovereign status, rather than become a "hub for terror and a launching pad against Israel". Sadly, it had chosen the latter path. Lebanon, once again, had had the chance, after the Security Council dramatically, and practically without precedent, had issued resolution 1559 (2004), making Syria leave Lebanon, at least partially. That had been a chance for Lebanon to "rid itself of the monster it had allowed to take over" its territory.
Israel was in Lebanon today "only to protect itself against a blatant act of war" -- the kidnapping of its soldiers and the shelling of its cities and towns by thousands of rockets, which represented only a fraction of the weapons that Lebanon had allowed to be amassed in the south of its country, he said. It was time that Lebanon took its fate into its own hands, instead of crying out to the Security Council, to rid itself of the very beast causing that horror against its people. It was time for Lebanon to act.
Taking the floor again, Mr. MITRI said that injustice bred violence, and violence bred violence. There was a genealogy of violence. Some of those who had lost loved ones in Qana in 1996 would be tempted to take up arms today. Violence was not a one-time act in history, but a party to a cycle, a process, and it was precisely that cycle that Lebanon sought to end. His Government had offered a political framework. He was not ready to hear sermons about what it needed to do. His Government had spared no effort, in national dialogue or in a political process, to reach a situation whereby the State, as the central authority, could extend its sovereignty over all of its national territory. However, it needed the international community's support -- political and otherwise -- to achieve that.
He said that the Rome Conference, which had brought together many States in support of Lebanon, had referred to Council resolution 425, implying that it had yet to be implemented. Lebanon had stated that it needed Shebaa Farms back, as well as the Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails and maps of landmines in southern Lebanon. Breaking the cycle of violence required political courage. For its part, Lebanon was not sparing any effort to open its ears, minds and hearts to constructive proposals, but the points unanimously elaborated by the Council of Ministers constituted the basis for any political framework to put an end to the present tragic situation.
He had come here to reaffirm that a political settlement would bring an end to the violence, but what should precede that, as anywhere in the world, was a ceasefire, he said. No political settlement could be reached, while a country's towns and villages, bridges and shelters were being severely bombarded. A ceasefire was a prelude to discussion.
Mr. GILLERMAN said that Lebanon's Minister was right: violence bred violence, and the violence emanating from Lebanon against Israel, after Israel had withdrawn from every inch of Lebanon, could not be justified. Lebanon had said it wanted the Shebaa Farms back -- they should ask the Syrians to give back, since Israel could not give Lebanon back something that was not Israel's. The Security Council had said that Israel had left every single millimetre of Lebanon. How long would he keep hearing excuses and alibis for the violence? The violence was occurring because Lebanon had allowed violence to take over; it had allowed the country to become a "hotbed of violence and a cesspool of terrorism". Those children did not need a Qana to hate Israelis. All they had to do was read the textbooks of Hizbollah and go to their places of prayer. No baby was born wanting to become a suicide bomber, but, if that was the culture in which they grew up, violence bred violence.
Hatred was not in anybody's genes, nor in Lebanese culture, Mr. MITRI responded. Hatred and the present war bred hatred, and it bred despair and aggravated frustration, and the sense of being dispossessed and humiliated. It perpetuated a history of injustice. It was not just Lebanon that had asserted the need to have Shebaa Farms returned to it, along with its prisoners and maps of the landmines in the south of the country -- the international community was behind those legitimate requirements, and they were part of any honourable political solution.
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