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I write to draw your attention to recent terrorist activity and violations carried out against Israel, as well as relevant developments in the region, in connection with the briefing on the Middle East scheduled for 23 April 2008.
Situation along the Gaza Strip
More than 200 Qassam rockets and mortars were fired by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip during the last month. Most of the rockets landed in and around the southern envelope communities, such as Sderot, placing nearly a quarter of a million Israeli civilians in the range of rocket attacks. Moreover, Palestinian terrorists have escalated the violence with frequent machine-gun fire.
On 26 March, two Israeli civilians were wounded after Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired more than 20 Qassam rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel. Both of the victims suffered shrapnel wounds; nine others were treated for shock.
On 4 April, Palestinian snipers fired on the convoy of Israel’s Minister of Internal Security, Avi Dichter, during a tour of Kibbutz Nir Am, near Sderot. An aide of the minister was injured.
On 9 April, Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a salvo of mortars at the Nahal Oz crossing and infiltrated the fuel terminal. Two Israeli civilians employed at the terminal were shot dead by four Palestinian terrorists. Nahal Oz supplies the Gaza Strip with most of its fuel. The attack occurred following a delivery of fuel for the Gaza power plant, funded by the European Union.
On 16 April, three IDF soldiers were killed in a confrontation with armed Palestinian terrorists who approached the security fence south of the Nahal Oz fuel terminal.
Hamas terrorists have held Corporal Gilad Shalit captive since he was kidnapped on 25 June 2006. Hamas refuses to allow the Red Cross or any other agency to visit him and verify his condition. As mentioned in previous letters, the smuggling of weapons, money and other illegal munitions into the Gaza Strip continues. Hamas uses tunnels, burrowed deep beneath the ground, to move weapons into the Gaza Strip, turning the area into a launching pad for more attacks.
Israel continues to ensure the steady and continuous flow of fuel and other supplies into the Gaza Strip to meet the needs of the civilian population. Some 2.2 million litres of fuel, as well as unlimited quantities for cooking gas, 800,000 litres of diesel fuel for transportation and 75,000 litres of gasoline are transferred through the crossings into Gaza on a weekly basis. The gasoline and diesel fuel transferred by Israel are meant primarily for ambulances, water pumps, the sewage system, public transportation, food trucks, garbage collection, food plants and generators at various institutions including schools, hospitals and clinics.
But the Hamas terrorist organization intentionally harms the civilian population in the Gaza Strip by diverting fuel delivered for humanitarian purposes and preventing the distribution of fuel to civilian filling stations. In recent weeks, almost half of the fuel supplies meant for Gaza civilian use were diverted by Hamas for its terrorist purposes. As such, Hamas is staging an energy crisis in Gaza while instigating strikes and protest rallies. The closed filling stations and long lines of cars and people waiting for petrol are all part of Hamas’s planned media campaign conducted at the expense of the civilian population. Hence, Hamas bears responsibility for any fuel shortage in connection with the humanitarian needs of Gaza.
Situation in the West Bank
Palestinian terrorism and violence also occurred in the West Bank, including incidents of stabbing attempts, drive-by shootings, and rock and Molotov cocktail throwing.
On 31 March, a Palestinian terrorist attempted to stab two Israeli civilians waiting for a ride at a junction between Eli and Shiloh.
On 10 April, Israeli security forces arrested two Hamas terrorists in the West Bank town of Qalkilya after discovering a weapons cache containing 100 kg of gunpowder and 100 kg of fertilizer to be used in preparing explosives, as well as electrical switches and wires. Security services also revealed that they had detained two Palestinians after a terrorist plot was uncovered. The two had planned to poison customers at an Israeli restaurant.
Also on 10 April, Palestinian terrorists fired at an Israeli bus travelling south of Nablus.
Annapolis process and the extremist threat
Palestinian terrorism remains the greatest obstacle to peace and security in the region. The Palestinian leadership must stop the violence, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, end the cycle of impunity and bring the terrorists to justice. At the same time, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are meeting regularly to advance the understanding and spirit of Annapolis. Israel remains committed to the bilateral process with the moderate, legitimate Palestinian Authority leadership that embraces its responsibilities and the vision of two States living side by side in peace and security.
As Israel engages with the moderate Palestinian leadership, Hamas in the Gaza Strip continues to build up its forces and arms. Hamas has organized some 20,000 armed operatives directly subordinate to it or who can be integrated into its forces in an emergency. It has carried out large-scale training operations in the Gaza Strip and beyond, primarily in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Syrian Arab Republic. The backing and support of States such as the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Syrian Arab Republic enable terrorist organizations to carry out acts of violence and terrorism against Israeli civilians.
My delegation has underscored time and again that the Syrian Arab Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran blatantly violate international law, specifically the Charter of the United Nations and Security Council resolution 1373 (2001), as they host terrorist organizations within their borders. The Syrian Arab Republic serves as headquarters for numerous terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, where Khaled Mashaal and Ramadan Abdullah, their respective leaders, both reside. The international community must press for an end to State sponsorship and support for terrorism and isolate the extremists who seek to undermine the peace process.
Hamas and its backers bear full responsibility for the violence and terrorism and the humanitarian conditions imposed on the Palestinians in Gaza. Hamas and other terrorist groups seek to take advantage of cooperative mechanisms between Israel and the Palestinians, be they border crossings or even the removal of security checkpoints. The above-mentioned violations and incidents demonstrate that Palestinian terrorism is still a major threat, requiring Israel to take measures in self-defence. Israel will continue to defend itself and its citizens, as it is the right and obligation of all States, as set out in the United Nations Charter.
Situation along the Blue Line on the northern border
Israel wishes to underscore the importance of fully implementing Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), which changed the reality on the ground following the second Lebanon war, in 2006. My delegation welcomes the Council’s presidential statement of 15 April 2008 (S/PRST/2008/8), expressing its commitment and support for resolution 1701 (2006). However, we would have preferred to have seen specific reference made to three major aspects: arms embargo, rearming of Hizbullah and the abducted Israeli soldiers.
Weapons continue to be transferred through the porous Syrian-Lebanese border, in violation of the arms embargo. Moreover, some of these weapons are destined for areas south of the Litani River, where a rearmed Hizbullah maintains a formidable presence and adapts its modus operandi, when necessary, to avert the attention of UNIFIL. The incident on 2 April 2008, where UNIFIL command filed a complaint with Lebanese officials after a UNIFIL patrol was prevented from carrying out its activities in the Jubal al-Btom area, demonstrates the urgency of these concerns. A detailed listing of Blue Line violations can be found in the annex.
Lastly, Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, kidnapped on 12 July 2006 by Hizbullah, remain held by their captors, without any sign of life given or visit by the Red Cross. Resolution 1701 (2006) is explicit in its call for the unconditional release of the Israeli soldiers, and my delegation continues to call on the Council to implement these provisions, without delay.
I should be grateful if you would have the present letter and its annex circulated as a document of the Security Council. A copy of this letter has been sent to B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.