3 July 2006
Israelis, Palestinians Urged to "Step Back from the Brink", Avert Full-Scale Conflict, as Security Council Debates Events in Gaza
Palestine Observer Says Israeli Military Aggression Premeditated; Israel Tells Council Worst Fears Realized -- Gaza Now Terror Base
NEW YORK, 30 June (UN Headquarters) -- As the Security Council met this afternoon to consider the growing crisis between the Israelis and Palestinians, both parties were urged to "step back from the brink", and give dialogue a chance, in order to avert a full-scale confrontation that would only lock them in deeper and deadlier conflict.
"The slightest turn of events could easily set off another full-scale conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, bringing greater dangers to civilians, and with serious regional repercussions," Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane told the Council, at the outset of its meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.
Recalling the events of recent days, beginning with the Palestinian militant attack that had led to the abduction of a member of the Israeli Defense Forces and the subsequent Israeli military incursions into Gaza, she urged all parties to exercise restraint and act with wisdom, and in conformity with international law.
Nothing justified the holding of hostages, she said. Corporal Gilad Shalit must be released and the Palestinian Authority must act to stop indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israel. Meanwhile, Palestinian civilians should not pay the price of those actions, and Israel must cease the destruction of civilian infrastructure, ensure the protection of civilians and allow humanitarian assistance to get through.
The Permanent Observer of Palestine believed Israel's recent military aggression was premeditated and planned, using the soldier's capture as the pretext for launching operations into Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinians had fled their homes to stay safe from Israel's military onslaught. Sealed border crossings and the deprivation of electricity and water, had intensified the dire conditions in hospitals and elsewhere in the community, leading the International Red Cross to call on Israel to allow the delivery of urgent medical supplies to Palestinian civilians.
Yet, he went on to say, despite the Israeli onslaught and "State terror", the Palestinian leadership continued to choose the diplomatic option. Under President Mahmoud Abbas' leadership, it was working to resolve the issue of the Israeli soldier taken prisoner, to make sure he was being treated according to the rules of international humanitarian law and to secure his release unharmed. It was the duty of the Council, he added, to address the crisis. A failure to do so would only serve to bolster the occupying Power's impunity.
Israel, stated its representative, could not tolerate a situation, in which its citizens were being held hostage by members of a terrorist group such as Hamas. Sadly, Israel's worst fears about a terrorist organization taking over the Palestinian Authority had now been realized, and the world was witnessing the true colours of Hamas. He urged the international community to continue applying all possible political pressure on the Palestinian Authority and on the Hamas terrorist organization, including its members and sponsors in Damascus, so as to ensure the immediate and safe release of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and to finally bring to an end the use of Palestinian territory as a base for terrorist operations.
He said Israel had withdrawn from the Gaza Strip last August, with the hope of creating a window of opportunity and re-energizing the peace process. Instead, the response had been an actualisation of Israel's worry -- an increase in terrorist attacks. Gaza was now a terror base, actively supported by the elected Hamas Government. The aggressive terrorist provocations of the past week and those of recent months had persisted, only because they were supported by the official Palestinian Government, a terrorist regime with a sworn intent to deny Israelis their most fundamental human rights. But Hamas was not alone in its campaign of terror. The dangerous realities in the Middle East were further inflamed by the active and direct collaboration between Syria, Iran, Hizbollah and Palestinian terror groups, comprising an "axis of terror".
During the discussion that followed, with nearly 40 speakers, representatives called for the immediate and unconditional release of Gilad Shalit and urged Israel to exercise the utmost restraint in the current crisis. The detention of elected members of the Palestinian Government and legislature was of particular concern to several delegations, as was the protection of civilians, both Palestinian and Israeli. They called for a resumption of the peace process, warning that further escalation could jeopardize the stability of the entire region.
Also making statements today were the representatives of Qatar, France, Congo, United States, Russian Federation, Slovakia, United Kingdom, Japan, United Republic of Tanzania, Ghana, Greece, China, Argentina, Peru, Denmark, Algeria, Iran, Egypt, Austria (on behalf of the European Union), Malaysia (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Jordan, Yemen, Syria, Cuba, Libya, Indonesia, South Africa, Lebanon, Norway, Morocco, Zimbabwe (on behalf of the African Group), Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
The meeting, which began at 3:25 p.m., ended at 6:55 p.m.
The Security Council met this afternoon, at the requests of Qatar and the Arab League, to consider the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. Those requests are contained in documents S/2006/458 and S/2006/462.
Also before the Council are identical letters dated 28 June 2006 from the Chargé d'affaires a.i. of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations, addressed to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council (document A/ES/-10/341-S/2006/443). It states that Israel, the occupying Power, had launched a major air and ground military assault on the Gaza Strip on 28 June, threatening the lives of the defenceless Palestinian civilian population in the area, and causing the further deterioration and destabilization of the grave situation on the ground. After deploying thousands of troops in recent days along the southern border of the Gaza Strip, following the capture of an Israeli soldier on 25 June from a military outpost of the occupying forces on the Gaza border, the occupying Power has begun firing missiles and launching artillery at Gaza.
These attacks are deepening the humanitarian suffering of the Palestinian people and causing extensive physical and environmental destruction on the ground, with far-reaching detrimental consequences for the population, the letter states. It should be highlighted that, even prior to the capture of the soldier of the occupying forces, Israeli officials had been issuing a series of threats regarding the intention to launch a major invasion of the Gaza Strip.
The international community must exert urgent efforts to bring the Israeli military invasion of Gaza to a halt and halt the collective punishment and crimes being committed against the Palestinian people by the occupying Power with sheer impunity, it states. The Council should take the necessary measures and condemn the aggression, as well as demand that Israel, the occupying Power, cease its attacks, withdraw its occupying forces and abide by its obligations under international law, including humanitarian and human rights law, in all of its actions vis-à-vis the Palestinian civilian population under its occupation.
In addition, the Council had before it identical letters dated 26 June 2006 from the Chargé d'affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations, addressed to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council (document A/60/905-S/2006/436), drawing the attention of the Council to a violent attack perpetrated by Palestinian terrorist organizations against Israel on 25 June, which resulted in the death of two Israeli soldiers, the wounding of three others and the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit. Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees and Jish al-Islam ("the Army of Islam") took responsibility for the attack.
Israel views the Hamas-led Palestinian Government as specifically responsible for this attack, and the Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas responsible for the welfare of Corporal Gilad Shalit.
Israel has fully disengaged from the Gaza Strip, with the hope of opening a window of opportunity to peace. Nevertheless, Gaza has increasingly turned into a terror base, actively supported by the Hamas Government. This terrorist attack emphasizes, once again, that the takeover of the Palestinian Authority by a terrorist organization is not an internal political matter. It is an event of major significance that affects the stability of the entire region. Moreover, this attack was supported by Khaled Mashaal, a Hamas leader who is currently operating from Damascus with the support of the Syrian regime.
Israel calls on the international community to maintain a firm stand against the Hamas terrorist organization, and deny it any form of legitimacy, until it fully meets the three conditions set out by the international community: to recognize Israel, renounce violence and terror, and abide by prior international agreements. The main concern should focus now on the well-being and safe release of Corporal Gilad Shalit. Israel expects the international community to voice strong condemnation of this violent attack and call for Corporal Shalit's immediate return.
ANGELA KANE, Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that, at approximately 5 a.m. on 25 June, eight Palestinian militants had left the southern Gaza Strip via a tunnel and infiltrated an Israel Defense Force base near the Kerem Shalom Kibbutz. They had fired several anti-tank rockets into the Israel Defense Forces base, leading to a gun battle. Coporal Gilad Shalit, an Israel Defense Forces soldier also holding French nationality, had been taken hostage and was currently being held hostage by militants in Gaza. Two Israel Defense Force soldiers had been killed and a further three wounded. Two Palestinian militants had been killed in the operation.
She said a statement had been issued by three Palestinian militant groups, confirming that they had conducted the operation. They had subsequently stated that he would not be released, nor information on his health provided, unless Israel released all Palestinian female and underage detainees. The Palestinian Authority spokesman had called upon them to guarantee his safety and President Abbas had called for his release, as well as met with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and contacted counterparts.
Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had ruled out negotiations over any exchange of prisoners, and the Israeli Cabinet had agreed that the Palestinian Authority would bear full responsibility for any harm to Corporal Shalit, she said. The Prime Minister had approved recommendations to prepare and deploy Israeli forces for urgent military action.
Meanwhile, she said, international efforts to secure the release of the soldier had been undertaken by Egypt, and reportedly France and Jordan. The Secretary-General had been in frequent touch with Prime Minister Olmert, President Abbas and President Assad in Syria, as well as consulted individually with his Quartet partners.
Israel had begun operations to obtain the release of Corporal Shalit, just after midnight on 28 June. The Israel Defense Forces had struck Gaza's only power station from the air, and ground forces had moved into the Gaza Strip. Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers had moved into the airport. Israeli military aircraft had broke the sound barrier over Gaza, causing sonic booms and, on the same day, four Israeli Air Force Fighter jets had flown over Syrian territory, breaking the sound barrier over the presidential villa in Lattakia.
A further air strike had taken place in the afternoon of 28 June, she continued, on a largely disused training camp in the south of the Gaza Strip. Another Israeli incursion into Gaza had taken place in the early morning of 29 June. The Israeli air force had shelled an open area in the compound of the Islamic University in Gaza, and Israeli tanks had entered northern Gaza. In the afternoon of 29 June, the Israeli air force had attacked a car in the Gaza Strip, though its occupants had escaped.
On 25 June, an 18-year-old Israeli from the West Bank settlement of Itamar had been abducted by Palestinian militants as he was hitchhiking, and his body had been found in Ramallah on the morning of 29 June. The Palestinian Popular Resistance Committee had claimed responsibility for the acts.
She said, on 29 June, an Israel Defense Forces spokesman had said that the ongoing operation was aimed at halting rocket attacks on Israel from northern Gaza, in addition to securing release for the missing soldier. Between 25 and 30 June, Palestinian militants had reportedly fired 17 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel, including 11 on 29 June. There had been no reported casualties.
Also, on the night of 29 June, Israeli forces had undertaken a large-scale arrest raid, detaining 64 Palestinian Authority officials and 23 suspected militants. The Israeli Attorney General had said those arrested would be charged under anti-terrorism legislation.
She said violence had continued on the night of 29 June, including 30 air strikes. The air attack on the power station on Wednesday had destroyed six transformers and the switchyard, resulting in 40 per cent of Gaza residents living without power. Water pipes had also been damaged, so that 130,000 people were now without water. There were sufficient food supplies to last two or three weeks more. Supplies of food and medicine would decrease to critical levels, however, because crossing points between the Gaza Strip and Israel had been closed since the beginning of the Israel Defense Forces operation. Private pipelines bringing fuel from Israel to the Gaza Strip had not been functioning for the past five days, meaning supplies would run out as early as Sunday, 2 July.
Nothing justified the holding of hostages, she said. Corporal Shalit must be released, and the Palestinian Authority must act to stop indiscriminate rocket attacks. Meanwhile, Palestinian civilians should not pay the price of those actions, and Israel must cease the destruction of civilian infrastructure, ensure the protection of civilians and allow humanitarian assistance to get through. She urged all concerned parties to step back from the brink and give dialogue a chance, to avert full-scale confrontation.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine, said the Palestinian civilian population being held captive under Israel's belligerent military occupation exemplified the sentiments expressed by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs to the Security Council two days prior, in which he had said: "There are too many times when we still do not come to the defence of the civilian populations in need. The world is a safer place for most of us, but it is still a death trap for too many defenceless civilians, men, women and children."
Indeed, he continued, the list of violations and breaches of international law that had been and were being committed by Israel against the Palestinian people were endless, and the list of pretexts used to continue those violations and crimes just as endless. Those included having "no partner for peace", so called security concerns, and now the capture of a soldier. Yet, those pretexts rang hollow when the situation was examined in the context of a long history of Israel's brutalization, humiliation and de-humanization of the Palestinian people, for the purpose of acquiring land through a settlement campaign and construction of the wall.
The recent military aggression had been premeditated and planned, he continued. Prior to the capture of the Israeli soldier on 25 June, Israel had issued threats and declarations about an intention to launch a major invasion of the Gaza Strip, and had mobilized troops. It had then used the soldier's capture as the pretext for launching the invasion. Then, on 28 June, after amassing thousands of troops along the southern border of the Gaza Strip, Israel had launched an air and ground military assault by warplanes and tank artillery bombardment. Hundreds of Palestinians had fled their homes, particularly from Rafah, to stay safe from Israel's military onslaught, which was expected to expand, as Israel had deployed thousands more troops along the northern border of Gaza, threatening to invade Palestinian towns and refugee camps in the north. Sealed border crossings and the deprivation of electricity and water had intensified the dire conditions in hospitals and elsewhere in the community, leading the International Red Cross to call upon Israel -- in accordance with international law -- to allow the delivery of urgent medical supplies to Palestinian civilians.
He said, following the launch of the invasion on Wednesday, Israel had expanded their aggression into the West Bank, carrying out kidnappings and detentions of at least 64 Palestinians, the majority of them high-ranking, democratically-elected officials, including eight Cabinet ministers of the Palestinian Authority, 24 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and several mayors. Those officials were being held, along with 9,000 other Palestinians, in Israeli jails in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Further, the targeting of senior Palestinian officials was a clear indication that everything was being done for political objectives intended to sabotage recent agreements among Palestinian parties for reconciliation, to hamper the functioning of the Palestinian Authority and to cause the complete collapse of the Authority as a whole.
Yet, he went on to say, despite the Israeli onslaught and "State terror", the Palestinian leadership had continued to choose the diplomatic option. Under President Mahmoud Abbas' leadership, it was working to resolve the issue of the Israeli soldier taken prisoner and making sure he was being treated according to the rules of international humanitarian law, and to secure his release unharmed. Such efforts had been exerted simultaneously with efforts to secure agreement among all Palestinian parties for national unity and to promote calm. Israel should reciprocate such efforts by abandoning military options.
He said it was the duty of the Security Council to address the crisis situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It should begin by condemning Israeli aggression and call for the immediate cessation of hostilities, compliance with international law, the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces from within the Gaza Strip and the release of Palestinian officials being detained. A failure to do so would only serve to bolster the occupying Power's impunity. It was not too late for the Security Council to asserts its rightful role and use its authority to bring an end to the breaches being committed and salvage the prospects for reaching peace on the basis on international law, United Nations resolutions, the Quartet Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative.
DANIEL CARMON (Israel) shared with the Council the facts concerning the latest developments on the ground. He recalled that, during the attack of 25 June, Palestinian terrorists had killed two Israeli soldiers, kidnapped one soldier -- Corporal Gilad Shalit -- and wounded three other soldiers. The terrorist organizations Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) and Jish al-Islam ("the army of Islam") had taken responsibility for the attack. Gilad Shalit was currently being held hostage and his whereabouts were not known. On that same day, the Popular Resistance Committees had kidnapped and, subsequently, murdered an 18-year-old Israeli civilian. Those Palestinian terrorist attacks had been launched after long weeks of Israeli restraint in the face of numerous attempted kidnappings and unceasing Qassam rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip that had targeted civilians, schools and homes, traumatized children and paralysed the city of Sderot.
He said Israel had withdrawn from the Gaza Strip last August, with the hope of creating a window of opportunity and re-energizing the peace process. Instead, the response had been an actualisation of Israel's worry -- an increase in terrorist attacks. Gaza was now a terror base, actively supported by the elected Hamas Government. One particular form of continuous Palestinian terror had been the barrage of Qassam rockets launched into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip. Since last October, more than 600 Qassam rockets had fallen onto Israeli cities and territory, and, in just this past week, more than 50 rockets had been launched from Gaza. The clear target of those attacks was men, women and children -- Israeli civilians.
The aggressive terrorist provocations of the past week and those of recent months had persisted, only because they were supported by the official Palestinian Government, a terrorist regime with a sworn intent to deny Israelis their most fundamental human rights. Hamas had declared this month that it was renouncing its ceasefire. But Hamas was not alone in its campaign of terror. The dangerous realities in the Middle East were further inflamed by the active and direct collaboration between Syria, Iran, Hizbollah and Palestinian terror groups, comprising an "axis of terror".
The first and foremost obligation of every State was to protect its citizens, he said. From the moment the initial reports of Gilad's kidnapping had been received, Israel had spared no effort in exploring and exhausting all diplomatic channels and had, in particular, given Chairman Abbas every opportunity to secure his safe release, which could be seen as a test of his leadership. Even in Damascus, where Khaled Mashaal, a leader of Hamas, kept his headquarters and liaised with the Assad regime, many important communications had been received, in order to influence Corporal Shalit's safe return. Indeed, many leaders in the region agreed that Mashaal was the key to resolving the humanitarian crisis. Nevertheless, so far, the diplomatic efforts had been fruitless.
Israel, like any other responsible Government, could not tolerate a situation, in which its citizens were being held hostage by members of a terrorist group such as Hamas, he stated. Israel did not disengage from the Gaza Strip, in order to return to it. As it now stood, the Israeli army's presence was limited to a very small area in southern Gaza, with the sole aim of preventing Corporal Shalit from being smuggled outside the Gaza Strip. The military operation now taking place was thus specific in nature and limited in scope. Its objective was not punishment or retaliation, and Israel was taking every effort to minimize any harm to Palestinian civilians. In fact, just an hour ago, the Israeli Defence Minister had declared that Israel was immediately planning to take steps to ease the humanitarian situation on the ground in Gaza.
In light of the escalation of Palestinian terrorism, Israel had decided to intensify its efforts to arrest those operatives responsible for terrorist attacks, so they could be tried and brought to justice. Israel would not accept allowing terrorists to hide behind "political" titles. Sadly, Israel's worst fears about a terrorist organization taking over the Palestinian Authority had now been realized, and the world was witnessing the true colours of Hamas. He urged the international community to continue applying all possible political pressure on the Palestinian Authority and on the Hamas terrorist organization, including its members and sponsors in Damascus, so as to ensure the immediate and safe release of Gilad Shalit, and to finally bring to an end the use of Palestinian territory as a base for terrorist operations.
NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER (Qatar) said that, during the past two days, Israel had conducted military activities, including air bombardments and use of ground forces, to destroy infrastructure, bridges, universities and power stations. The total closure of the Gaza Strip from all sides -- air, land and sea -- had caused the isolation of 1.5 million Palestinians from the outside world, not only restricting their movements, but also causing their economic strangulation. For instance, they would soon face food shortages and international relief agencies were prevented from delivering humanitarian assistance.
He said the Israeli air force had broken the sound barrier, causing sonic booms to intimidate the population. Israel had also detained 64 members of the Palestinian Government, or one third of the entire Government, which was an act disproportionate to its declared objective. Indeed, such acts served as collective punishment of the Palestinian people, which was banned by the Geneva Convention. Furthermore, the escalation in Israeli Government policy was irresponsible, and constituted violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and international human rights laws. It served to abort the Road Map and dealt a blow to any chance to realize peace in the Middle East. Flying in the air space of a neighbouring Arab State only served to exacerbate the situation.
The Security Council had a responsibility to act to end those violations, he said. In recent weeks, it had met to discuss the strengthening of the rule of law, preserving international peace and security, and ensuring the protection of civilians during times of armed conflict. Members had listened, and affirmed their support for, all those important issues. How it would deal with the presence of one country that was ignoring those initiatives, was a test of the credibility of the Security Council regarding its commitments. If no firm action was taken, it might erode its authority.
JEAN-MARC DE LA SABLIÈRE (France) said he was extremely concerned by the developments in the Middle East. While he recognized Israel's right to self-defence, he called for the greatest restraint in the military operations under way, particularly regarding the protection of Palestinian civilians. He called for the speediest end to the Israeli incursions into Gaza. It was essential that the Palestinian Authority take all necessary measures to halt the firing of missiles. He condemned the killing of the Israeli settler and the kidnapping of the soldier in the West Bank. Hamas must adhere to the three principles laid down by the international community. It was also essential to protect the Palestinian Authority as an institution, and to guarantee the possibility for future dialogue and negotiations. The arrest of Palestinian political leaders was a direct threat to the existence of Palestinian institutions, and he called for their release. It was essential, he added, for all parties to take measure towards the de-escalation of the crisis.
BASILE IKOUEBE (Congo) said the spark that had set off the conflagration had been the abduction of an Israeli soldier, by means of a commando operation against an Israeli military unit. It had disrupted the relaxed atmosphere that recently prevailed -- spurred on by positive developments such as progress in the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, for example, which had hinted at a de facto recognition of Israel among them. During that time too, assistance had increasingly been given to the Palestinian Authority by its international partners. Most importantly, there had been talk by President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert of a resuming the Road Map, with the support of Egypt and other international partners.
He said Congo deplored bellicose activities and attitudes that weakened the chances of peace. As such, the abduction of soldiers by Palestinian groups was not acceptable, and should not to be encouraged. Military operations of disproportionate nature by Israel, in turn, aggravated the living conditions of an already long-suffering Palestinian population, making them official victims of terrorism and should also not be encouraged. He appealed to all parties to place peace ahead of other concerns, so that the Middle East could turn on the road towards peace in the context of the Road Map. The Security Council should make a contribution to the efforts of individuals and institutions of goodwill that stood ready to help both Israel and the Palestinians to exist side by side in peace.
JOHN BOLTON (United States) said everyone was aware of the seriousness of the situation evolving in the Middle East, and the foremost responsibility of the Security Council should be to avoid taking steps that would exacerbate that situation. The Council should tread cautiously before issuing any remarks, much less a formal statement, and should not undermine its limited credibility by engaging in rhetoric for its own sake.
He called for the immediate and unconditional release of Corporal Shalit, which was the best way to achieve a peaceful resolution of the immediate crisis. Terrorism, in any form, was intolerable, and the international community must stand united in opposing it. The attack and hostage taking had precipitated the current crisis, and the refusal to release the hostage continued to place innocent Palestinians in harm's way. He also condemned the killing of the Israeli settler. Upon the safe release of Corporal Shalit, he hoped the parties could continue discussions on the best way forward to achieve lasting peace.
The prerequisite for ending the conflict was for Syria and Iran to end their role as State sponsors of terror, he stated. As the international community called for calm in the region, it must remain cognizant of the fact that the region would not be in the situation in was now in, if not for Syria's harbouring of terrorists. Syria should arrest Khaled Mashaal, a terrorist and member of Hamas; close down various terrorist headquarters in Damascus; stop financing terrorism; and stop cooperating with States, such as Iran, which financed terrorism. At the same time, the representatives of the Palestinian Authority must take measures to stop acts of terrorism. He called on the current leaders of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to implement the principles set forth by the Quartet: renounce terror, recognize Israel and accept previous agreements, including the Road Map. He reiterated the need for Hamas to secure the safe release of Corporal Shalit. In addition, he called on all parties to avoid actions that could escalate the situation or harm innocent civilians, while acknowledging Israel's right to defend itself and its citizens.
VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said urgent action was required to further reduce activities that could destabilize peace in the region. The large-scale military action undertaken by Israel, for example, only complicated the search for a solution. To avoid a full-blown crisis, he called on the Palestinian Authority to curb the activities of extremists, including terrorist attacks on the citizens of Israel, using missiles. Also, the Israeli soldier must be released.
He said, although Israel had a right to protect its citizens, it could not do so at the price of the entire Palestinian population, through methods of collective punishment on residents of Gaza and other places in Palestine. Activities involving the violation of the Syrian border were also insupportable. Finally, Israel's arrest of members of the Palestinian Government should be condemned; those officials had received a mandate to serve their people through a democratic process, for which there was broad international agreement.
Bringing the parties back to the negotiating table was the only viable alternative to peace, he said. Any other alternative would lead to more destabilization. Regarding the worsening humanitarian situation, it was important to implement proposals of the Quartet for assisting the people of Palestine, by providing them with fuel and medicines, with the support of international donors. The Russian Federation, in turn, would use its contacts with Israel and Palestine, to try to bring the parties in line with agreements of the Quartet.
PETER BURIAN (Slovakia) called on all parties to exercise the utmost restraint and do everything possible to calm the situation, and prevent a further dangerous escalation that would only lead to suffering and loss of lives. In that regard, he strongly condemned the recent killing of the kidnapped Israeli civilian. Also, he urged the Palestinian Authority to undertake all necessary measures and make all efforts to find and release the kidnapped Israeli soldier and prevent further military and terrorist attacks on Israel, notably the launching of rockets against the Israeli population centres. Although he believed Israel had the right of self-defence against terrorism and its perpetrators, and understood its anxiety over the well-being of the kidnapped soldier, he stressed that Israel's measures and responses must be proportionate, and everything possible must be done to avoid loss of innocent lives, destruction of infrastructure and further deterioration of the humanitarian situation. He also called on Israel to exercise the utmost restraint regarding flights over Syrian territory.
He stressed that there was no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The only way to achieve a comprehensive and lasting settlement to the conflict was through the peaceful negotiations leading to a two-State solution, in accordance with the Road Map. In spite of the latest wave of violence, he believed there was still a window of opportunity for the Palestinian and Israeli Governments to put the peace process on the right track. That window of opportunity must be seized through concrete and immediate action, leading from mutual recognition of the right to exist, to the mutual peaceful coexistence of two viable States.
EMYR JONES PARRY (United Kingdom), aligning himself with the European Union, expressed concerned over the situation in Gaza, and urged both sides to show restraint. He called for the release of Corporal Shalit, and condemned the murder of the other soldiers captured during the same operation. Israel, in turn, should seek to avoid civilian casualties in its acts, as well as committing actions that added to the suffering of the Palestinian people. The detention of elected members of the Palestinian Government raised particular concerns, and those officials should be accorded their full legal rights. Political solutions should be favoured over violence; diplomatic solutions should be sought in cases of conflict. As such, the parties in question should strive to find their way back to the negotiation table.
He said he shared the concerns expressed by others regarding the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Palestinian Territory, and hoped Israel would ease the situation by restoring electricity and water, as well as allowing access to affected areas by humanitarian organizations. The United Kingdom recognized the need to help provide for the basic needs of the Palestinian people. While the United Kingdom was not in the business of punishing people for the way they voted, it, nevertheless, did not want provide funds to a Government that did not support the Quartet principles. Under the temporary international mechanism endorsed by the Quartet, the European Commission had established teams, on the ground, to deliver allowances to frontline workers by mid-July, which was currently helping to pay for some utility bills, health supplies and social security for the poorest Palestinians.
A return to negotiations was the best way to ensure lasting peace, he added. The Security Council had a responsibility to encourage such negotiations and to help give them best chances of success. He reminded members that those goals could not be achieved, so long as one party refused to accept the right of the other to exist.
SHINICHI KITAOKA (Japan) said all parties must avoid measures that would escalate the situation. He called on the Palestinian Authority to bring violence by Palestinian extremist groups to an end, including rocket attacks, and to secure the immediate release of the Israeli soldier taken hostage. In that regard, the special envoy of the Government of Japan had appealed to President Abbas to resolve that matter. He called on Israel to exercise maximum restraint, and to avoid actions that caused casualties among Palestinian civilians and destroyed Palestinian infrastructure, thereby impacting on the daily lives of Palestinians. The detention of elected Palestinian officials was a cause for concern.
He was deeply concerned over the negative impact that the deteriorating situation would have on future efforts for peace. He strongly hoped the situation would calm down and an environment would prevail that was conducive to negotiations for peace. He welcomed the pledges of Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas last week to undertake negotiations. He expected Israel to refrain from taking any unilateral actions that might prejudge the final status negotiations.
He also expressed his concern over the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The international community, including Israel, must continue to provide humanitarian assistance. One year ago, Prime Minister Koizumi had announced an assistance package of $100 million for the well-being of the Palestinian people. To date, 80 per cent of that amount had been disbursed. As one of the major donors to the Palestinians, Japan would address the human situation in an appropriate manner. It had been announced last Wednesday that Prime Minister Koizumi would be visiting the region just prior to the "Group of Eight" Summit, if the circumstances permitted.
BEGUM K. TAT (United Republic of Tanzania) said that the Israeli incursion into Gaza was aimed at persuading the Palestinian side to free the abducted soldier. However, rather than engaging in such broad military action, dialogue should have been given a chance. Indeed, such action had hurt the civilian population of Palestine disproportionately, and would likely lead to a humanitarian disaster. She called for immediate cessation of such activities, and called for dialogue to replace military actions.
She said her country supported the attempts of President Hosni Mubarak in pursuing a peaceful solution to the conflict, and urged both sides to exercise maximum restraint. Indeed, the use of force would only aggravate tensions. As a start, the Hamas-led Government should work to release the abducted soldier. For its part, Israel should realize that military pressure only results in counter-violence from the Palestinian side. Israel should avoid acts that could strengthen the resolve of the military wing of Hamas and other groups to continue fighting. It should consider releasing the 64 Government officials, as that would help to release a great deal of tension. The international community should also play its part, by taking actions to avert further crises.
L. K. CHRISTIAN (Ghana) said that hopes for peace in the Middle East had been kindled last week at the news of an initial meeting in Jordan between the Israeli Prime Minister and the Palestinian Authority President. However, the events occurring in Gaza since the abduction on 25 June had plunged members, once more, into despair. To address the situation, Ghana called on the Palestinian Authority to do all it could to secure the release of the Israeli soldier. For its part, Israel should cease military operations, withdraw its forces from Gaza and release detained Palestinian officials.
Further, he reiterated the condemnation of all acts of violence and called on the Palestinian Authority to act decisively against rocket attacks on Israel, while Israel must desist from launching future military attacks into the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The consequences of Israeli military operations on the Palestinian people, who already found life unbearable because of economic pressure, were grave -- air strikes had affected power supplies, there was an acute lack of fuel and the water system could also be affected. The economic and institutional collapse of the Occupied Palestinian Territory must be avoided at all costs.
Israel and the Hamas Government should move from the brink of full-scale hostilities and seek peace, while the international community must actively search for a solution to the crisis. That meant renewing its commitment to the objectives of the right of Israelis to their own State within well-defined and secure boundaries, and the equal rights of Palestinians to their own independent State that guaranteed freedom of movement for its citizens.
ALEXANDRA PAPADOPOULOU (Greece) deeply deplored the killing of the abducted Israeli settler, confirmed only yesterday, and the continued holding of an Israeli soldier as hostage. She equally deplored the increasing number of victims among the civilian population in Gaza and the West Bank, and the exacerbation of the humanitarian crisis. The suffering of the Palestinian civilian population had reached new alarming levels. She called on Israel to exercise the utmost restraint in dealing with the current crisis.
In taking measures to defend itself, Israel must respect its obligations under international law, she said, repeating her call to Israel for proportionate use of force. She was also concerned over the detention of elected members of the Palestinian Government and legislature, and the way that was carried out by the Israeli army. In addition, she continued to believe that it was imperative that the Palestinian Government take effective and immediate action to improve security and to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel. She called for the immediate release of the abducted Israeli soldier. In the midst of the current dire situation, she welcomed Prime Minister Olmert's and President Abbas' pledge to negotiate, and commended the efforts of the latter to unite all Palestinian political forces to work towards achieving the widest possible consensus in support of the objectives of the Road Map.
LI KEXIN (China) said his country advocated the peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Towards that end, immediate action must be taken to end the vicious cycle of "violence for violence". Certainly, every Government had the right to protect its citizens, but it must be done within the bounds of international law. Current Israeli action had taken place at the expense of innocent Palestinian civilians, including the detention of democratically-elected Government officials, and it should put an end to such activities.
He said recent military activities had resulted in many civilian casualties. An appeal was made to Israel to respect international humanitarian law and avoid actions that could worsen the situations. He called for the international community to work together to facilitate assistance to the affected community. Indeed, the rapid deterioration of the peace process served as a reminder that hard work in the area must continue, and that both parties must be persuaded to resume their dialogue at an early date. Practical action must also be taken by the Security Council, because it had the responsibility to uphold peace and security in the world.
CESAR MAYORAL (Argentina) noted that the situation in the Middle East was deteriorating in an alarming manner. The events of past days had the potential to destabilize the entire region. He appealed to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to take emergency measures to de-escalate the situation, in order to avoid any large-scale confrontation. The abduction of the Israeli soldier was an unacceptable "provocative act". He appealed to Hamas to set him free and to hand him over to Israel in good health. He condemned the abduction and killing of the Israeli civilian. Those responsible for the death of civilians should be brought to justice. In addition, he reiterated that the Palestinian Authority must take every measure it could to put an end to Qassam rocket attacks fired from Gaza towards Israel. The conditions set out by the Quartet remained in force, and must be complied with by Hamas.
Likewise, he said, the Israeli Government also had responsibilities and obligations. He was concerned by the military operations and other Israeli activities that had affected Palestinian civilians. The "reoccupation" of the Gaza Strip could only fuel tensions. There could not be a military solution to the conflict. Israel must take a series of emergency measures to put an end to military operations in the populated areas of Gaza. Similarly, all Israeli practices in contravention of international law must cease, particularly those that violated the Geneva Conventions. The detention of elected Palestinian officials was an additional cause of concern. He called on Israel to reconsider that decision, as it might have negative repercussions for the Government and people of Israel.
He shared the concern of the international community over the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. Measures must be taken to restore the provision of basic services in the Palestinian areas. At the regional level, it was indispensable to put an end to all acts of provocation. All countries in the region must contribute to resolving the current crisis, as any confrontation could have repercussions for the entire region. He hoped the Council would remain cohesive and send a clear message to all parties, emphasizing that the only solution to the Middle East conflict was negotiations in good faith based on Council resolutions, earlier agreements and the principle of land for peace.
OSWALDO DE RIVERO (Peru) condemned what he called the unnecessary and provocative actions of Hamas, as it had tunnelled to a military post in Israel, murdered three soldiers and kidnapped one. He also condemned the kidnapping and killing of another Israeli citizen in the West Bank. At the same time, Israel must halt its attack upon the infrastructure of Palestinian cities, which was worsening the situation for the civilians there. He also expressed concern regarding the detention of elected officials of the Palestinian Authority.
He said it was urgent for the Quartet to act resolutely to bring about a permanent ceasefire and to ensure that the Palestinian Authority hand over the abducted Israeli soldier. He exhorted both sides to put an end to all violence, and the Security Council, should, in turn, impress upon the current Hamas-led Government to recognize Israel and abide by the obligations previously agreed to by the Palestinian Authority.
Council President ELLEN MARGRETHE LØJ (Denmark), speaking in her national capacity, said she was deeply concerned about the current deterioration of the security situation in the Middle East. In particular, she was concerned by the situation on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, following the attack by militant Palestinians, the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit, as well as the killing of a young Israeli settler. She called for the immediate and unconditional release of Corporal Shalit, and urged the Palestinian leadership to undertake all necessary efforts in that regard. She also called on Israel to exercise the utmost restraint in the current crisis. The detention of elected members of the Palestinian government and legislature gave rise to particular concern.
All parties must do their utmost to avoid further escalation, she said. They should not let themselves be provoked further. Additional violence would only serve to promote the agendas of extremists. Hopes for a resumption of a political dialogue after the recent positive signals, including the meeting between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, must not be dashed. She called for an early engagement between the Israeli Prime Minister and the President of the Palestinian Authority, and reiterated her expectation from both parties to respect existing agreements and obligations, including the Road Map. She also called on all parties to protect all civilians, and not add to their suffering. She urged them to resume their full responsibility to restore security, allowing for the resumption of the peace process and the return to the Road Map.
Mr. YOUSFI (Algeria) said that Israel had the habit of using all its military might to target innocent people living in the Palestinian Occupied Territory. He said he feared the recent Israeli act of detaining members of the Palestinian Government and legislature would set a dangerous precedent. Attacks on infrastructure had served to further complicate the life of 1.5 million citizens already suffering under a long history of collective punishment, and would lead to a new cycle of violence. Further, Israel had violated Syrian air space and sovereignty, threatening the security of the entire region. He condemned all those acts.
He said Israel's recent aggression was an addition to a long list of aggressions against the Palestinian people that it had been committing for decades. Indeed, it was difficult to count the total number of illegal practices by Israel, since it had been contravening various international law, as well as General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, since 1967. He said he believed the true reason for the recent aggression was to destroy recent diplomatic efforts, and was an example of State terrorism. Hence, he called on the international community to work at all levels to stop upholding double standards, and to compel Israel to withdraw from Gaza. The Council was also called upon to provide international protection to the Palestinian people, in line with the Geneva Convention, as well as to hold Israel fully responsible for the safety of detainees and others being held in Israeli prisons. He also called for the immediate release of the Palestinian Government officials.
It was well known, he said, that the continued Israeli occupation of Palestine was the root cause of the problem. Indeed, peace could not be realized without the total withdrawal of Israel forces to 1967 borders.
S.A. ARAGHCHI (Iran) said the international community was, once again, witnessing yet another military invasion by the Zionist army against the innocent Palestinian people, which was in flagrant defiance of the most basic principles of international law. Warplanes, tanks and thousands of troops invading the Gaza Strip had targeted civilians. The aggressors were depriving the civilians from basic necessities. With the Palestinian economy already strangulated under an unjust embargo, the Palestinians remained under siege, and new aggression threatened to inflict further suffering on civilians.
He said there should be no doubt the new round of aggression pursued more important political and strategic objectives, which included the undermining of the democratically-elected Palestinian Government. After more than 50 years, the occupying forces still hoped to force the Palestinian people into submission. They failed to understand that only the restoration of justice could remedy the grievances. They also failed to understand that the oppression they imposed upon a whole people was one of the root causes of many global problems. Iran was very concerned over the implications of the new aggression for the whole region. The new aggressive posture stood to create more instability and threatened to further destabilize the region. It was imperative that the international community get effectively involved. The Security Council had an important role to play, and should act.
MAGED ABDELAZIZ (Egypt) said the military escalation by Israeli forces over recent days threatened to widen the scope of violence and counter-violence, and negatively affected the chance for both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security. Israel, over the last few days, had launched a number of consecutive military attacks on the Palestinian people, which had led to many civilian victims, particularly children. The attacks had now reached full-scale operations, with Israel targeting infrastructure and detaining many Palestinian officials. Those attacks were another flagrant violation by Israel of international law. That required the Council to take all necessary measures to ensure international protection for the Palestinians, and Israel to bear full responsibility as the occupying Power.
The present situation clearly required the Council to assume its responsibilities in the maintenance of international peace and security, he said. A number of concrete and immediate measures should be taken to diffuse the situation. First, both the Israelis and the Palestinians should take mutual steps to calm the situation and return to the status quo prior to the initiation of the military operations. The second step was the immediate Israeli withdrawal from the territories it had stormed in Gaza, the full cessation of all military operations there, and the release of the Palestinian officials it had detained. Third, the Palestinian Authority should commit itself to exert maximum efforts in ensuring the immediate release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier, and in ensuring the halt to rocket attacks on Israel, in return for a halt to all Israeli military operations and withdrawal of its forces outside the Gaza Strip. Fourth, the Quartet should immediately initiate measures to build confidence between both parties, in preparation for starting final status negotiations.
GERHARD PFANZELTER (Austria), speaking on behalf of the European Union, called on Israel and the Palestinians to abstain from any actions that were in violation of international law. The European Union called for the immediate and unconditional release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier, and it condemned the murder of the Israeli victim of a kidnapping in the West Bank. It also called on Palestinian leadership to bring an end to violence and terrorist activities, and expressed its concern about the detention of elected members of the Palestinian Government and legislature. Reminding all parties of their responsibility to protect civilian lives, he said ongoing military operations should be in accordance with international law. The European Union called on Israel to exercise the utmost restraint, and it regretted the destruction of essential infrastructure, which contributed to the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
He said the European Union called upon all parties in the region to make every effort possible to resolve the current situation by peaceful means. Only a negotiated two-State solution could bring peace and security to the region, and a return to the peace process and the implementation of the Road Map was imperative. On 15 July, the European Union's Heads of State and Government had endorsed the proposed temporary international mechanism to channel assistance directly to the Palestinian people. In order to achieve an immediate impact, the mechanism would focus on essential supplies and running costs for social services and health. Other donors, including Arab States, were invited to provide funding. The Union stood ready to contribute a substantial amount to the international mechanism.
RADZI RAHMAN (Malaysia), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, condemned the kidnapping and detention by Israel of Palestinian Cabinet ministers, members of the Legislative Council and officials. He further condemned the kidnapping and detention by Palestinian militants of an Israeli soldier, and also condemned the killings, including extrajudicial killings, and injuring of all civilians, as a result of recent events. He also condemned the use of force by Israel against the Palestinians, and acts of violence and terrorism carried out by Palestinian militants against Israeli civilians.
He urged Israel to respect its obligations under the Geneva Convention relating to the protection of civilian person in time of war, and said that both sides must ensure that kidnapping and counter-kidnapping be checked. For its part, the Security Council must bear its responsibility of maintaining international peace and security, by demanding that both sides release all recently kidnapped and detained individuals, and by compelling Israel to cease its campaign of aggression in the Gaza Strip, to uphold its obligations under international law, and to cease its military attacks against Palestinian civilians and destroying civilian property and infrastructure. The Council should also assist President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to prevail upon groups in its territories to halt rocket attacks against Israel and its civilians.
He said it was incumbent upon both Israel and Palestine, with the assistance of the international community, to create the conditions necessary to resume negotiations. The Council must not be reluctant to invoke its authority and power on the question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
BASHEER ZOUBI (Jordan) condemned Israel's campaigns against civilians, as well as any form of collective punishment imposed on civilians in the Gaza Strip. He condemned the killing of civilians anywhere. He hoped that both parties would display a high degree of restraint. What the Israeli forces of occupation had done in Gaza did nothing but weaken the prospects for peace. He hoped the Council would send a clear, strong message about that unproductive attitude, which should end. Efforts should focus on de-escalating tensions. Any failure to send that message would facilitate a further deterioration of the situation. The international community had the paramount responsibility in the implementation of the Road Map.
He called on both parties to respect all the agreements they had signed, end any activities aimed at escalation and focus on the political process. He welcomed the efforts of President Abbas to reactivate the political process, and welcomed the positive measures taken by both sides. He called on Israel to put an end to all practices that violated the rights of the Palestinian people. The settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was based on an end to Israeli occupation and a solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees.
ABDULLAH ALSAIDI (Yemen) aligning himself with the Arab Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, said it was time to end "the arrogance of Israeli might". It was not the first time that Israeli forces had practiced State violence against a defenceless people, he said. With its recent operations, Israel had taken its activities to new heights, by destroying Palestinian infrastructure, kidnapping Palestinian officials and sending warplanes to violate Syrian air space, to prompt the region into war. His country steadfastly condemned those acts.
The Israeli act of aggression came on the heels of Palestinian domestic reconciliation, he said. In fact, Israel's military movements and threats had begun prior to the detention of the Israeli soldier, who was presently being used as a pretext for launching the eventual attack. Such actions showed that Israel was not truly sincere in seeking peace, but was intent on usurping more Palestinian territories and settling colonists on those lands. Yet, the Security Council was paralysed to act against it -- Israel seemed protected from any punishment and no one seemed to question any acts committed by it that ran counter to international laws.
He said that, to create conditions for peace, the international community was required to exert pressure on Israel to respect international instruments. Their crimes tended to generate hatred and incite violence in the region. A defenceless people, subject to regular tensions, would naturally feel frustrated, he added, leading to hatred and terror. Therefore, the international community must put an end to such acts of aggression, hold Israel accountable for its actions and help the parties implement agreements of the final status negotiations.
MILAD ATIEH (Syria) said that the Council was meeting as the situation in the Middle East was deteriorating from bad to worse, as a result of arrogant Israeli practices that constituted a real threat to international peace and security. Israel, which had never cared for international legitimacy, was trying to drag the entire region into confrontation. The flights of Israeli war planes over Syrian shores were a blatant violation of the sovereignty of a Member State and of international law. In addition, Israeli aggression against the Palestinians was a war crime, for which it should be held accountable. Those acts of aggression were unjustifiable and reflected the internal failures of Israel, which was trying to avoid a just, lasting and comprehensive peace. The events of the last few hours had proved that Israel had never been sincere in its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The destruction of Palestinian infrastructure was a violation of international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Israel did not hesitate to make charges against others to cover up the war crimes it was daily perpetuating against an unarmed Palestinian population, he said. He was concerned by the past experience of the Council, due to its repeated failure to fulfil its responsibility regarding the maintenance of international peace and security vis-à-vis the Middle East. Why did the situation in the Middle East continue to deteriorate? The answer was in the continuation of the Israeli occupation and the blocking of the Council assuming its mandate, as well as the lack of seriousness in finding a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He hoped the Council could assume its responsibility this time, regarding the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians.
He said the United States Ambassador had attacked Syria, in an unacceptable manner, with baseless allegations. The Ambassador had made himself the defender of Israel in its aggression towards the Palestinians. That the United States provided cover to Israel, in the Council, in its pursuit of destructive policies, would never serve the cause of peace in the region and would only lead to more tension there. The allegations by Israel against Syria and others for supporting terrorism was a cause for irony. Israel wanted to cover up the war crimes and terrorism that its Government was pursuing daily against the Palestinians. What Israel was doing through its destructive military operations during the past few days was more evidence of State terrorism. Israel must be held accountable for its actions, in connection with international law.
Mr. BENITEZ VERSON (Cuba) said that saving the kidnapped Israeli soldier had been used a pretext to launch a military attack against the Gaza Strip. It had been disruptive to the peace process, especially since it had taken place shortly after parties were seeking reconciliation. He also rejected the incursion into Syrian airspace by Israel.
As in the past, Israel had acted with arrogance and impunity, supported by the United States permanent veto in the Security Council, he said. He voiced a vigorous condemnation of current attacks, and demanded the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of troops, the return of refugees to their lands and the return of territorial boundaries to those of 1967. Those were the only ways to achieve lasting peace, he added.
Also, the new escalation of military action had aggravated the humanitarian situation, he said. For that reason, the Security Council could not afford to remain silent. He urged members to consider living up to the Council's commitment to the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the establishing a sovereign State of Palestine, sooner rather than later.
AHMED OWN (Libya) said that the serious developments resulting from the barbaric and continuing Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip, the targeting of innocent civilians and infrastructure, and the detention of several Palestinian officials, were all violations of international law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention. The international community should bear the moral and legal responsibility to stand up to that cowardly action. It should condemn the Israeli military campaign against unarmed Palestinians and consider that aggression a crime. The international community, including the Council, should not be fooled by the claims made by Israeli occupation forces, which had justified their aggression as a response to the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier and as self-defence. Its military operations had been planned for weeks, in order to detain Hamas leaders.
He said self-defence could not take place in occupied territory. The deterioration and increasing complexity of the situation was the result of the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. He requested the Council to ensure adequate international protection for the Palestinian people and the implementation of the Fourth Geneva Convention; to consider Israel responsible for the safety of all detainees and prisoners, as well as for their immediate release; to condemn the Israeli aggression and to put an end to it, as well as to put an end to any violation of Syrian air space; and to call for international assistance for the Palestinian people and to ensure it reached them as soon as possible.
REZLAN ISHAR JENIE (Indonesia) said his delegation was very concerned about the increasingly dangerous situation in the Middle East. Israel had mounted a major and indiscriminate offensive in Gaza. It had captured eight Cabinet ministers and dozens of Hamas officials. Furthermore, the Israeli air force had hit more than 30 targets in Gaza. The power supply had almost completely disappeared in northern Gaza, following the disabling of two of the remaining electrical relay stations in the blasts. The Territory was on the edge of a humanitarian crisis. If the objective was truly to see to the return of a captured soldier, this was unwarranted aggression and a grave violation of international law. The standoff between the Palestinian leadership and the Israelis was threatening to explode, and it was appropriate that the Security Council was meeting to reflect on the issues.
Indonesia condemned that show of military force. It called upon the Security Council to act urgently to have Israel pull out of Gaza without delay and without preconditions. Both sides should be urged to resolve, by peaceful means, the issue of the kidnapped soldier, as well as the release of all recently kidnapped and detained Palestinians. The longer the current stalemate went on, the worse the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian Territory. Indonesia called on Israel to resist the temptation to escalate the crisis. There could be no military resolution of the conflict.
DUMISANI S. KUMALO (South Africa) condemned the Israeli Government's policy of collective punishment, as a direct violation of international law. Israel's bombing campaign, which had continued unabated, had resulted in the destruction of strategic bridges and access roads, as well as Gaza's only power plant. Gaza's medical facilities were in a dire state. The loss of Gaza's only power plant had resulted in a lack of electricity and water for those critical facilities, which could only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. Although Israel had legitimate security concerns, they should not be addressed at the expense of international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people.
The South African Government called for caution with regard to the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said. The unlawful arrest of Palestinian Cabinet members was illegal and unacceptable, and they should be released immediately.
He also called on the Israeli Government to stop its military offensive and take all necessary measures to ensure that the situation was not further exacerbated. Peace could only be achieved through a negotiated settlement, based on a two-State solution that provided for a sovereign Palestinian State and guaranteed the right of Israel to live within secure borders. The military intervention and arrests of senior Palestinian leaders had come hours after the historic Palestinian acceptance of a plan from leaders of all Palestinian factions incarcerated in Israeli prisons. That had been a major step forward and opened up real possibilities for ending violence. Given that reality, how could anyone justify the invasion, arrests and massive destruction of Palestinian infrastructure? "Sadly, we have entered a very dangerous period, which will threaten the stability of the region and international peace and security," he said.
Ms. ZIADE (Lebanon) said there was a need to promptly take several steps. First, the Council should take decisive steps to achieve a ceasefire and restore security in the Occupied Territory, as well as ensure international protection in line with the Fourth Geneva Convention. Second, the Quartet must shoulder its responsibilities and facilitate the establishment of a machinery to channel assistance to the Palestinians. Third, steps were needed to allow the Palestinian Authority to move immediately to restore the security situation and to allow the Palestinians and the Israelis to return to the negotiation table.
The actions taken by Israel were flagrant violations of the human rights and safety and security of the Palestinian people, she continued. They were also a challenge to peace. Israel's aggression was not confined to the Palestinian territories. It had used its military forces along the "Blue Line", under the pretext of self-defence. It had also violated the air space of Syria and the air space and territorial waters of Lebanon. It continued to carry out acts of aggression against States that had expressed their wish for lasting peace. Lebanon, while condemning Israeli aggression, joined the call for a ceasefire, a return to calm and negotiations, and the release of all prisoners.
JOHAN L. LØVALD (Norway) expressed concern over the dramatic situation unfolding in and around Gaza, and said all parties must exercise the utmost restraint to prevent it from getting out of control. The abduction of the Israeli soldier and the killing of the young Israeli settler were unacceptable and deplorable acts, as they could only aggravate the already precarious situation of Palestinian civilians. Norway also deplored the arrest of lawfully elected Palestinian politicians, saying they needed to be released immediately.
He said his country had also repeatedly condemned rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. Meanwhile, Israeli military operations in the densely populated areas had endangered lives and caused suffering to the civilian population of Gaza. He called on Israel to withdraw its forces. He expressed further concern for the humanitarian situation in Gaza, caused by Israeli attacks on vital infrastructure, saying such collective punishment was unacceptable.
According to international law, he added, any use of violence should be proportionate, while countermeasures against the civilian population were unacceptable under international law. Israel must help restore water and energy supplies to Gaza, desist from any action that might damage vital infrastructure and show consideration for the Palestinian civilian population. Palestinian leaders must make every effort to release the kidnapped Israeli soldier and bring to justice those responsible for the murder of the Israeli settler.
Mr. SAHEL (Morocco) said he was following with grave concern developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in the face of the wave of destruction that had been unleashed. He deplored the escalation, the violence and the campaign carried out by the occupation forces and called for the immediate cessation of Israeli military operations. He also called for the release of all Palestinian officials detained by Israel.
He fully rejected the approach adopted by Israel in dealing with the crisis, he said, adding that there was no alternative to dialogue. He also reiterated the need to enable the President and members of the Palestinian Government to move freely within the Palestinian territories. Israeli provocations and violations of Syrian air space constituted a threat to international stability. He called on the Council to take tangible measures to put an end to Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. He continued to be hopeful about the possibility of arriving at an end to violence in the region, and was convinced that negotiations were the best way to achieve lasting peace.
B. G. CHIDYAUSIKU (Zimbabwe), speaking on behalf of the African Group, joined others in expressing his deep concern over the escalating tensions in the Middle East, which had seen Israeli military invasions of the Gaza Strip and the resultant wanton destruction of Government buildings, roads, bridges and power stations; the illegal arrest of elected representatives; and threats to the lives of defenceless Palestinian civilians, including women and children. In his view, those unfortunate developments were the result of the lack of progress in addressing the major issues and in following up on core positions regarding the question of Palestine. He condemned the ongoing excessive use of military might by Israel, which was disproportionate to the issues at hand, and demanded that Israel immediately cease all violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law. He called on the Council to take urgent measures to bring the ongoing Israeli military invasion to an immediate halt, in order to advance the peace process in the region.
AIZAZ AHMAD CHAUDHRY (Pakistan) said that, since the last public meeting of the Council on the Middle East, definitive changes had taken place in the region.
The massive operation by the Israeli army, however, had undermined the atmosphere of hope for peace following the elections in Palestine. He regretted the Israeli incursion into Gaza, including the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, saying the increased hostilities would further impede international efforts to jumpstart negotiations.
He said the current challenge facing the international community was finding ways to halt the massive human suffering resulting from Israel's military operations; how to encourage the resumption of negotiations on the Middle East peace process; and how to prevent acts by Israel that could unilaterally make a negotiated settlement based on the principle of "land for peace" impossible. Here, the United Nations, including the Security Council and the Secretary-General, must play a more central role in calling upon the two Governments to heed the call of their people for peace.
Regarding the situation on the ground, there should be an immediate cessation of hostilities, he said. Also, efforts should be made to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Palestinian areas. In the medium term, Israel should stop its construction of the wall and halt attempts to change the demographics in certain areas. The two parties must deepen their dialogue towards final status issues. The implementation of the Road Map was the best hope of settling the Israel-Palestine dispute, and it was the collective obligation of the international community to help facilitate its implementation.
Mr. GAHRAH (Saudi Arabia) said that, once again, Israel was reasserting its aggressive nature. Its aggression against the Palestinians in Gaza was a form of terrorism that was unjustified and that was clear in its aims and objectives. The Palestinian resistance had suffered many victims, including members of a family on the beach in Gaza. Five people in one family had been killed by Israeli artillery from the land and the sea. An international investigation commission had not been dispatched, nor had that act been condemned. Israel continued to isolate the Palestinians, prevented the delivery of their wages, and carried out assassinations.
The Palestinians were only exercising legitimate resistance, he stated. Israeli aggression in Gaza was a flagrant violation of international law and agreements reached. The kidnapping of Palestinian ministers and representatives was a terrible crime and a violation of international law. Israeli terrorism in Gaza was not due to the capture of an Israeli soldier, but rather part of Israel's plans to destroy the legitimately elected Palestinian Government. The aim of Israeli aggression was to prevent Palestinians from reaching agreement among themselves, and then to claim there was no partner for peace.
The Israeli Government, he said, would not have continued its aggression, if not for the failure of the Council to uphold its responsibilities, and its failure to have its resolutions implemented. The Israeli Government was able to disregard international resolutions, because it believed it could get away with its acts under the pretext of self-defence. He appealed to the international community, the Council and the Quartet to put an immediate end to Israel's aggression against Gaza, and to ensure that it released prisoners and implemented all agreements reached.
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