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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


Fifty-ninth General Assembly
Plenary
42nd & 43rd Meetings (AM & PM)
GA/10286/Rev.1*
27 October 2004

GENERAL ASSEMBLY DECIDES TO LAUNCH INTERNATIONAL YEAR FOR SPORT (2005)
 
ON 5 NOVEMBER, ASSESSES FOLLOW-UP TO SPECIAL SESSION ON CHILDREN


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Background

The General Assembly met today to resume its joint debate on sport for peace and development and a culture of peace.  It would also consider follow-up to the outcome of the 2002 special session on children.  (For more details, see Press Release GA/10284 of 26 October.)

Statements on Sport/Culture of Peace

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DAN GILLERMAN (Israel) said sports were powerful.  Not only did they gauge the limits of human potential, but they could also be used to foster international friendship and harmony, as well as bridge the global seams of friction. Unfortunately, sport could also be abused and made to serve as a sword as much as a shield.  For example, the Palestinian Authority continued to use sporting events to present terrorists as role models for youth.  For years, racism and anti-Semitism at European football games had been an increasingly disturbing phenomenon, and did not seem to have abated.  Israel, however, commended the work of organizations that were working to combat those nefarious activities. Particular praise should go to Football against Racism in Europe (FARE).

Perhaps the most important example of the capability of sports to reflect the world came from the Olympic Games, he said, congratulating Greece on a very successful and peaceful twenty-eighth Olympiad.  Israel was proud of its athletes’ performances at the Olympics, and there was a feeling of international brotherhood manifested at this year’s Games.  His only regret was the dismaying inability of certain countries to put aside the irrational politics of hate and allow all athletes to compete in the spirit of international harmony and hope, for which the Games were intended.  Yet, no matter how successful an Olympic Game, it was always a time of sadness for Israel, which cleaved to the memory of the 1972 Games in Munich, when gunmen from the terrorist group Black September, disguised as athletes, killed 11 Israeli athletes, coaches and referees.  That tragedy could not be forgotten, and it was disappointing that the International Olympic Committee had not yet found an appropriate manner in which to officially observe the memory of the fallen Israel.

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Statements on Children

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FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said that, proceeding from the belief that the development of children was an investment in the future, his Government had made the promotion and protection of the rights of children a top priority.  It had set up the Supreme Committee for Children in 1999 with the aim of addressing a broad range of childhood questions, as well as facilitating the promotion and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Syria’s forward looking national plan –- through 2015 –- covered children with special needs, health care and services for abused children, and healthcare for both girls and boys.  He added that the tenets of the Convention were being integrated into school curriculums, and that a National Childhood Watch had been established to follow up on plans and programmes aimed at protecting children.

In spite of achievements, the Government could not provide for all the country’s children, particularly since thousands were still living under occupation in the Syrian Golan since 1967.  Those children, like their Palestinian brothers and sisters, were subject to Israel’s violations of international norms, as well as its efforts to erase their national identity through, among other things, destruction of educational facilities and books.  Syria hoped that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, would draw attention to that tragic situation and urge Israel to respect its obligations under international law.

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Right of Reply

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Israel said he regretted having to take the floor to respond to Syria’s earlier statement, in which its representative had exploited today’s debate on an important global issue in order to advance its own narrow agenda.  The Syrian intervention had been particularly puzzling since it was coming just one day after the Israeli Parliament had voted to approve Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to remove Israeli forces from Gaza and the West Bank in the coming year.  Time and again, Mr. Sharon had said that he supported the establishment of a PalestinianState alongside Israel and would do his utmost to ensure peace.

But the same could not be said for Syria, which was a brutal dictatorship and which continued to occupy a neighboring State –- an occupation with no end in sight, he continued.  Just last week, the Security Council “noted with concern” the continued presence of foreign forces in Lebanon and that armed groups were still operating there.  Indeed, the continued murderous presence of Hezbollah in Lebanon under Syria’s watchful eye was not a coincidence, since Syria was known to foster, harbor and finance any number of terrorist groups and actors –- in violation of the most basic international norms –- in its capital, Damascus.  He urged the Assembly not to forget that scores of Israeli youth had been killed by such terrorists in buses, restaurants and even during religious ceremonies.

He went on to say that the Syrian delegation had expressed sympathy with the plight of Palestinian children.  But why did the hundreds of Israeli children killed or maimed in terrorist attacks deserve less sympathy or attention?  Millions of Arab and Israeli children were growing up in a reality of conflict, hate, violence, incitement and bloodshed.  Those children would design the nature of the coexistence of both sides in the next generation.  The death of any child –- Arab or Israeli - was a tragedy.  The first goal was to ensure that children in the region grew up in a safe environment.  To achieve that, terrorism must stop and those that supported terrorism -- like Syria -- must be held to account and must be granted no immunity from the consequences of their actions.

The representative of Syria said Israel was attempting to obfuscate facts before the Assembly.  Israeli forces in the Syrian Golan had violated the rights of the inhabitants there, oppressed them and deprived them of the fundamental right to life.  According to the briefing last week by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast, the Israeli occupation forces had killed more than 3,000 Palestinians, including 300 children, in the past three years.  The latest was the killing of two children while they were in school.  The representative of Israel had attempted to draw the attention of delegates away from the fact that his nation practiced State terrorism in the full sense of the word, killing civilians and destroying houses while owners were still inside, and violating international norms.

He said that Israel’s representative should be the last person to speak about compliance with resolutions.  There were scores of Security Council resolutions calling for Israel’s withdrawal from the territories.  A resolution was recently adopted by the Council on Lebanon.  The international community knew that Syria’s presence in Lebanon was under a bilateral agreement between the two nations to stabilize the situation there, which was created by Israel.  He did not want anyone to be deceived by Israel, who wanted to divert attention away from the occupied Syrian Golan.  Syria would continue to expose Israel’s practices.

The representative of Israel said that, unfortunately, since the outbreak of the terrorist intifada in 2000, Israel had found itself facing a particularly difficult situation, in which terrorist organizations -- many operating on instructions from their headquarters in Damascus –- had made increasing use of children and minors in acts of violence against Israelis.  A growing number of children had been directly involved in carrying out such actions, and the average age of suicide terrorists was becoming ever younger.  Palestinian children had also acted as shields for terrorists, he said.  The cynical use of children as pawns of terror began in the Palestinian education system, where textbooks openly preached hatred against Israel and Israelis.  Television programmes and music videos even urged children to put down their toys and take up the battle against Israelis.  The exploitation and manipulation of children, some as young as seven or eight, was a blatant violation of international law and should be of great concern to the international community.

The representative of Syria said he wanted to explain two points.  The Palestinians in Syria were refugees, who were expelled by force by Israel and could not find refuge except in neighbouring States.  Syria and other Arab States had received them and provided them with their livelihood.  They were undertaking information activities only, he said.  The representative of Israel was once again attempting to sell his allegations to the international community.  The school curriculum in Syria called for tolerance and coexistence, and did not incite violence.  Israel incited violence by carrying out violence and committing murder.  Those allegations would fool no one.

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*     Reissued to reflect correct headline and opening paragraphs.
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