21 July 2006
"Immediate Cessation of Hostilities" Urgently Needed in Lebanon, Says Secretary-General, as He Briefs Security Council
Urges International Community to Speak With One Voice in Coming Days; Proposes Package of Concrete Elements Aimed at Achieving Durable Ceasefire
NEW YORK, 20 July (UN Headquarters) -- With the bloody conflict engulfing Lebanon and northern Israel continuing to rage and every day bringing new escalation, Secretary-General Kofi Annan this morning called for an immediate cessation of hostilities to prevent further loss of innocent life, allow full humanitarian access to those in need and to give diplomacy a chance to work.
Briefing the Security Council on the results of the urgent mission he had dispatched one week ago to defuse the current crisis, he said it was the mission's assessment that there were serious obstacles to reaching a ceasefire, or even to diminishing the violence quickly. Despite that assessment, however, the international community must make its position clear on the need for immediate cessation of hostilities. While there were differences of approach within the Council, it was united by the common desire to bring about a stable, long-term peace in the region. That would require the international community, through the Council, to "speak with one voice in the coming days", he said.
In that regard, he invited the Council to consider the parallel implementation of a package of concrete proposals, including the transfer to the legitimate Lebanese authorities of the captured Israeli soldiers and an expanded peacekeeping force on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line to help stabilize the situation over the next two years. Lebanon's Prime Minister would confirm, unequivocally, to the Secretary-General and the Council, that the Government of Lebanon would respect the Blue Line in its entirety, until agreement on Lebanon's final international boundaries was reached.
A donor framework would be established, with immediate effect, to secure funding for an urgent package of aid, reconstruction and development for Lebanon, he continued. A mechanism would also be established, composed of key regional and international actors, to monitor and guarantee the implementation of all aspects of the agreement. An international conference should be organized, with broad national and international participation, to develop precise timelines for a speedy and full implementation of the Taef agreement and further measures needed for Lebanon to comply with its international obligations under Council resolutions 1559 and 1680. The conference would also endorse a delineation of Lebanon's international borders, including a final resolution on all disputed areas, especially the Shebaa Farms.
Hizbollah's provocative attack on 12 July had been the trigger for the crisis, he said. He repeated his condemnation of those attacks, as well as Hizbollah's "reckless disregard" for the wishes of the elected Government of Lebanon and the interests of the Lebanese people and the wider region. It was clear that the Lebanese Government had had no advance knowledge of the attack.
While Hizbollah's actions were deplorable, and Israel had a right to defend itself, the excessive use of force was to be condemned, he said. And, while Israel had stated its military objective to be to "hit Hizbollah's infrastructure and physical strength", it had, in the words of the Lebanese Prime Minister, "torn the country to shreds". In short, the very Government that Israel wanted to extend its control had itself become a hostage to the crisis, was less able than ever to deploy its forces in the areas necessary to control Hizbollah and was appealing to the international community for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
Only the simultaneous implementation of the different elements of the package he had presented would allow for the transformation of any cessation of hostilities into a durable ceasefire, he concluded. When that was achieved, the international community would need to develop a framework for the final delineation of the borders of Lebanon, and a decisive revival of the Middle East peace process. In that regard, he urged the Council to take firm action towards ensuring peace and stability in the Middle East region, as mandated by the United Nations Charter.
The meeting began at 11:25 a.m. and concluded at 11:50 a.m.
Briefing by Secretary-General
United Nations Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN said the bloody conflict that had engulfed Lebanon and northern Israel, following the crisis triggered by the Hizbollah attack across the Blue Line on 12 July, continued to rage, with a new escalation almost every day. The Lebanese people, who had hoped their country's dark days were behind them, had been brutally dragged back into war. Already, over 300 Lebanese had been killed and over 600 wounded, mostly civilians, and about one third of them children. Much of the infrastructure had been destroyed and Lebanon remained under an Israeli military blockade. The Israeli people, who had hoped that Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon six years ago would bring security along their northern border, found themselves under constant Hizbollah rocket attacks. To date, 28 Israelis had been killed and over 200 wounded.
On the humanitarian front, conditions continued to deteriorate, he said. Lack of access made it difficult to determine the exact figures of people in need. United Nations agencies were currently working on the basis of up to 500,000 people affected, comprising both internally displaced and those under siege. That included nationals from some 20 foreign countries. In addition, Syrian authorities had reported that more than 140,000 people had crossed into Syria.
Since the fighting began, he said, he had been in constant touch with regional and world leaders, both by telephone and during the Group of Eight (G-8) Summit in St. Petersburg and his visit to Brussels. He had repeatedly stressed that what was most urgently needed was an immediate cessation of hostilities, in order to prevent further loss of innocent life; to allow full humanitarian access to those in need; and to give diplomacy a chance. He had dispatched an urgent mission to the region on 13 July, led by his Special Adviser, Vijay Nambiar, which had returned to New York yesterday. However, while hostilities continued, it was imperative to establish safe corridors for humanitarian workers and for relief supplies to reach the civilian population. Next week, he hoped to issue a United Nations flash appeal to cover an initial response period of three to six months.
Because of the continued fighting, Israeli imposed restrictions and the destruction of roads, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had no freedom of movement and was unable even to provide humanitarian escorts for displaced people. One UNIFIL staff member and his wife had been missing in Tyre since Monday. The mission now urgently needed a "window" of time, in which to bring in stocks of food, water and fuel from Israel for its own personnel. Most non-essential staff and dependents had been moved outside the country, but additional humanitarian experts were being brought in.
"Let me be frank with the Council," he said, "The mission's assessment is that there are serious obstacles to reaching a ceasefire, or even to diminishing the violence quickly." Hizbollah's provocative attack on 12 July had been the trigger for the crisis. It was clear that the Lebanese Government had had no advance knowledge of the attack. Hizbollah's actions, which the group portrayed as defending Palestinian and Lebanese interests, in fact, did neither. They held an entire nation hostage. He again condemned Hizbollah's attacks on Israel and acknowledged Israel's right to defend itself under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. He also condemned Hizbollah's reckless disregard for the wishes of the elected Government of Lebanon.
He said Israel had confirmed that its operation in Lebanon had wider and more far-reaching goals than the return of its captured soldiers, and that its aim was to end the threat posed by Hizbollah. Although Israel had stated that it had no quarrel with the Government or people of Lebanon, a number of its actions had hurt and killed Lebanese civilians and military personnel, and had caused great damage to infrastructure. "While Hizbollah's actions are deplorable and Israel has a right to defend itself, the excessive use of force is to be condemned," he said.
He said the mission reported that many of its interlocutors in the region had noted that, whatever damage Israel's operations might be doing to Hizbollah, they were doing little or nothing to decrease popular support for Hizbollah, and doing a great deal to weaken the Government of Lebanon. "In short, the very Government, which Israel wants to extend its control, has itself become a hostage to the crisis, is less able than ever to deploy its forces in the areas necessary to control Hizbollah, and is appealing to the international community for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire," he said. Moreover, any analogy with Afghanistan under the Taliban was wholly misleading. The Government of Lebanon clearly espoused democratic values and deserved all possible support from the international community.
He said that, despite his assessment that a full ceasefire remained difficult to achieve at this time, the international community must make its position clear on the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and a far greater and more credible effort by Israel to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, while the conditions for such a cessation were urgently developed. Both the deliberate targeting by Hizbollah of Israeli population centres with hundreds of indiscriminate weapons and Israel's disproportionate use of force and collective punishment of the Lebanese people must stop. The abducted soldiers must be released as soon as possible and, in any event, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) must be granted immediate access to them. The Israeli Government must allow humanitarian agencies access to civilians, and the democratically elected Government of Lebanon must be urgently supported in its hour of crisis.
In addition to, and parallel with, those urgent steps, it was necessary to continue diplomatic efforts to develop, in the shortest possible time, a political framework that could be implemented as soon as hostilities ceased, he said. Most people in the region rightly rejected a simple return to the status quo, since any truce based on such a limited outcome could not be expected to last. The mission had suggested elements which, in his opinion, must form the political basis of any lasting ceasefire, and on which they had conducted consultations with the leaders of Lebanon and Israel. He and his advisors would continue to work on those elements in dialogue with the parties and regional and international partners.
Elements discussed with the parties included that the captured Israeli soldiers must be transferred to the legitimate Lebanese authorities, under the auspices of the ICRC, with a view to their repatriation to Israel, and a ceasefire, he said. On the Lebanese side of the Blue Line, an expanded peacekeeping force -- much larger than the present one -- would help stabilize the situation over the next two years, working with the Lebanese Government to help strengthen its army and deploy it fully throughout the area. Meanwhile, the Lebanese Government would fully implement Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1680, to establish Lebanese sovereignty and control. Lebanon's Prime Minister would unequivocally confirm to the Secretary-General and the Security Council that the Government of Lebanon would respect the Blue Line in its entirety, until agreement on Lebanon's final international boundaries was reached.
He added that a donor framework would be established, with immediate effect, to secure funding for an urgent package of aid, reconstruction and development for Lebanon. A mechanism would be established, composed of key regional and international actors, to monitor and guarantee the implementation of all aspects of the agreement. An international conference should be organized, with broad national and international participation, to develop precise timelines for a speedy and full implementation of the Taef agreement and further measures needed for Lebanon to comply with its international obligations under Council resolutions 1559 and 1680. The conference would also endorse a delineation of Lebanon's international borders, including a final resolution on all disputed areas, especially the Shebaa Farms. His letter to Prime Minister Siniora of 5 June 2006 covered those issues.
The planning and implementation of those elements should, as far as possible, be done in parallel, he stressed. Those ideas would require further elaboration and re-working, in close dialogue with all concerned. The Council would need to consider incorporating the elements of such a package in a resolution.
"Meanwhile, the conditions for peacekeeping clearly do not exist", he said. The Council would need to decide what to do about UNIFIL, whose mandate would expire on 31 July. In his view, the continuation of UNIFIL in its current configuration, and with its current mandate, was not tenable. Should it be withdrawn? Should it be strengthened? Should it be replaced with something else altogether? The context was radically different from a few weeks ago
"We also need a peace track for Gaza -- despite the different issues -- as much as we do for Lebanon", he said, noting that he was gravely concerned about Gaza. Palestinians there were suffering deeply, with well over 100, many of them civilians, killed in the last month alone. After the destruction by Israel of the Gaza power plant, more than 1 million people were without electricity for most of the day and night. Israelis in the south continued to endure Qassam rockets, though, fortunately, without causalities in the past month.
He called for an immediate cessation of indiscriminate and disproportionate violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a reopening of closed crossing-points, without which, Gaza would continue to be sucked into a downward spiral of suffering and chaos, and the regional further inflamed. In his delegation's meetings with President Mahmoud Abbas, he had underscored his readiness to engage in a proper dialogue with Israel's Government. It was vital that the regional crisis not be allowed to dampen the hopes that had been emerging on that score. President Abbas' efforts to move the Palestinian side towards a national unity Government that addressed the Quartet's principles must be fully supported. Israel needed to refrain from unilateral acts that prejudiced final status issues and agree to negotiate in the peace process.
If the violence was to end, he continued, the international community must also play its part and address the Israeli-Palestinian issue boldly and creatively. That would also help remove a pretext used by extremists throughout the region, including in Lebanon. As the G-8 Summit had concluded, and as Arab leaders had stressed to the mission, the need to address a root cause of the region's problems -- the absence of a comprehensive Middle East peace -- was clear.
While there were differences of approach in the Council, it must remember what united it, namely compassion for the victims and for all who had lost loved ones, and the common desire to bring about a stable, long-term peace between Israel and its neighbours. That required the international community, through the Council, to speak with one voice in the coming days. He invited the Security Council to consider the parallel implementation of the package of concrete actions he had just presented. The international community's support in the political, security and financial areas would be critical for the success of the entire process.
Only the simultaneous implementation of the different elements of that package would allow for the transformation of any cessation of hostilities into a durable ceasefire, he concluded. When that was achieved, the international community would need to develop a framework for the final delineation of the borders of Lebanon and a decisive revival of the Middle East peace process. He urged the Council to take firm action towards ensuring peace and stability in the Middle East region, as mandated by the United Nations Charter.
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