20 August 2003



Briefing Council, Assistant Secretary-General Says Parties Should Be Encouraged to "Take Risks for Peace"

NEW YORK, 19  August (UN Headquarters) -- Briefing the Security Council this morning on Middle East developments over the past month, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs said both Israelis and Palestinians needed "courage and determination to stay the course" and must not allow themselves to fall back into the senseless cycle of violence and revenge. 

"We must do all in our power to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to take risks for peace, and even consider new initiatives to energize the process", Danilo Turk told the Council.  In the interest of attaining peace and security for both peoples, the parties must continue to implement the steps called for in the "Road Map".  In that respect, there are no "miracle fixes or easy shortcuts" for the strategic actions that both parties must take in parallel to ensure the realization of the Road Map's ultimate goals:  an end to terrorism and violence; an end to occupation; and a resolution to the conflict leading to two States, Israel and Palestine, living in peace and security side by side. 

The international community should be actively supportive and work with the parties to seek ways to maintain momentum in that difficult process, Mr. Turk added.  And, both parties must deepen their commitment to security cooperation -- that lay at the heart of further progress.   At this fragile time, each party must do more towards re-establishment of trust and continue to explore mutual confidence-building measures.

Despite setbacks, progress in some areas continued with the implementation of the Road Map, he continued.  At the end of July, United States President George Bush had hosted Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Sharon for talks on the Road Map implementation, reflecting the United States Government's deep commitment to the process.

Reviewing the latest statistics, he said that since the declaration of the ceasefire on 30 June there had been noticeable reduction in the numbers of casualties on both sides:  21 Palestinian casualties and 60 injuries since 1 July, compared with 68 fatalities and 111 injuries for the month of June.  During the same period, there had been 5 fatalities and 21 injuries on the Israeli side, compared with 33 fatalities and 111 injuries in June.  According to Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports, there had been a significant decrease in the number of Palestinian house demolitions, with eight cases reported in July, compared with 57 in June.

There had, however, been a disturbing increase in violence in August, he said.  Tragically, on 12 August, two Israeli civilians had been killed and some dozen injured in separate suicide bombings in Rosh Ha'ayin and the West Bank settlement of Ariel.  Such terrorist attacks were in clear violation of the ceasefire.  The Palestinian Authority should do all in its power to apprehend the instigators of those attacks.  The Israeli army had also reported increased incidents of Palestinian fire against its positions in Gaza.  At the same time, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) had launched military operations that had resulted in Palestinian casualties.  On 8 August, for example, as the IDF targeted a suspected bomb-making facility in the Askar refugee camp in Nablus, two Hamas activists and two civilians were killed.  On 14 August, an IDF operation in the West Bank had resulted in the killing of the head of the Islamic Jihad in Hebron.

He went on to say that the Palestinian Authority must intensify its efforts to achieve full security control in its areas -- its primary obligation under the Road Map.  It should also continue the reform process to streamline and professionalize the cabinet and the civil service, ensuring full accountability and transparency.  As reported last month, the Palestinian Authority had resumed security responsibility for the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem in early July, and violence in those areas had significantly decreased.  Until now, however, and six weeks into the ceasefire, the parties had been unable to agree on the conditions under which the Palestinian Authority would resume security responsibilities in the remaining West Bank Palestinian cities. 

The onus was on the parties to agree to the conditions, by which they could commence security cooperation in all parts of the West Bank, so that the Palestinian Authority could resume full security responsibility in its areas.  This week, the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel would continue their discussions concerning the handover of security responsibility for the towns of Qalqilya, Jericho, Ramallah and Talkarem.  The resolution of that question was key to moving forward.

For its part, Israel should help to strengthen the Government of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and take additional steps to improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians.  Without such steps, the Palestinian people lacked adequate incentives for peace.  Israel must also recognize that its settlement policy, in fact, undermined the possibility of a future viable and contiguous Palestinian State.  That meant that Israel should reconsider the construction of the separation barrier and its route.  While Israel had a legitimate right to security, the barrier was a unilateral act not in keeping with the Road Map, and he called again on the Government of Israel to halt its construction.

Regarding Israel's settlement policy, he said that phase one of the Road Map called for the dismantlement of settlement outposts established since March 2001 and a freeze on all settlement activity, including natural growth of settlement.  Out of some 60 settlement outposts established between March 2001 and June 2003, the Government of Israel had dismantled eight, one of which had been rebuilt in mid-July.  A further 12 outposts had been built by settlers, of which five were dismantled.  As a result, as of 13 August, the sum total of outposts remained at 60.  Also, since the last briefing, there had been a significant rise in the reports of settlement activity, with settlement expansion plans being discussed by the Government of Israel.  On 31 July, the Israel Lands Authority had announced that the Defence Ministry had approved the issue of a tender to build a number of new housing units in a settlement in the Gaza Strip. 

Continuing, he noted some marked improvements in the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory in July, though the situation of Palestinian civilians remained dire.  United Nations and international staff movement into and within the Gaza strip had eased considerably, and fewer access incidents had been reported by international humanitarian organizations.  However, most villages and towns continued to experience severe access problems, and the majority of Palestinians were forced to make long detours to reach their homes, workplaces, educational facilities and hospital services.

In fulfillment of Prime Minister Sharon's commitments at the Aqaba summit, the Government of Israel had undertaken to release a number of Palestinian prisoners, having released 405 to 419 prisoners since the beginning of June, according to various sources.  He urged Israel to encourage a more broad-minded policy of releases.

Turning to the situation along the Blue Line, he noted with regret a violent disruption earlier this month of the relative calm that had prevailed in south Lebanon since January.  On 8 August, there had been a heavy exchange of fire across the Blue Line when Hezbollah attacked Israeli military positions in Shab'a farms area.  The Secretary-General had been very concerned by that incident and asked all sides to refrain from actions that would increase tensions.  The Council had on many occasions repeated its position that such attacks represented violations of the Blue Line, and he called again on the parties to ensure that they ceased.  Consistent with relevant Council resolutions, it was the duty of the Government of Lebanon to ensure the return of its effective authority in the south.

Regarding "a dangerous cycle of overflights and anti-aircraft artillery fire", he said that as a result of Hezbollah anti-aircraft fire, a young Israeli civilian had died and four others had been wounded on 10 August in Shelomi.  One violation could not justify another.  The Secretary-General had strongly condemned that action by Hezbollah and reiterated his call for restraint.  Today, he wanted to stress the need for all parties to abide fully by their obligations under all relevant Security Council resolutions and respect the Blue Line in its entirety.  The people of south Lebanon and northern Israel deserved no less.

Summarizing the situation at the end of his statement, Mr. Turk said that only resolve, determination and full-hearted commitment to the process by the parties, the Quartet and key regional players "can bring us to the goals we all share:  a just and comprehensive peace based on United Nations Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 1397".

The meeting was called to order at 11:08 a.m. and adjourned at 11.30 a.m.

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