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


Security Council
2003 Round-up
SC/7982
16 January 2004

IRAQ, MIDDLE EAST, AFGHANISTAN, AFRICA KEY ISSUES BEFORE SECURITY COUNCIL IN 2003

Following are summaries of major Council activities in 2003:

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Middle East

Israel/Palestine

The Council was briefed monthly on the situation in the Middle East. During his last briefing, on 12 December, Terje Rød-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Special Coordinator for the Middle East, noted that the death toll since September 2000 stood at 2,969 Palestinians and 863 Israelis.

In numerous briefings, it was emphasized that, although Israel’s right to self-defence was recognized, as the occupying Power it had to do so within the parameters of international law, in particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention. In that regard, concern was expressed at continuous demolition of Palestinian homes, closures, and extrajudicial killings. At the same time, it was stressed, the Palestinian Authority must do everything in its power to prevent the killing of innocents. The Authority was called upon to bring those involved in planning attacks to justice.

On 15 September, 47 speakers debated ways to reverse a recent surge of violence and return the parties to the peace process. Many voiced fundamental disagreement with the Israeli Cabinet’s decision, in principle, to expel Yasser Arafat from the occupied territories. Israel’s representative, however, said Mr. Arafat, who had not abandoned the path of terrorism, was a significant obstacle to the peace process. The Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States said that Israel’s attempt to put the conflict in the prism of terrorism was ridiculous. The Council must take a clear position to end Israel’s flouting of international norms.

On 16 September, the Council failed, due to the negative vote of the United States, to adopt a draft resolution by which it would have demanded that Israel desist from any act of deportation and cease any threat to the safety of the elected President of the Palestinian Authority. Bulgaria, Germany and the United Kingdom abstained. Eleven members voted in favour. The United States had voted against, according to its representative, because the draft did not include a robust condemnation of acts of terrorism. His country, however, did not support removal of Mr. Arafat.

On 14 October, 44 speakers raised concerns regarding the security barrier being built by Israel in the West Bank. The Permanent Observer for Palestine said the construction of the “expansionist” wall involved de facto annexation of expansive areas of occupied land, and would constrict a large number of Palestinian civilians in several walled Bantustans. Israel’s representative said the “security fence” was being built with great reluctance, but that his country had few other options to protect its people against terrorism. Israel was willing to remove the fences if there was a negotiated settlement.

Due to the negative vote of the United States, the Council failed that same day to adopt a draft resolution that would have declared illegal construction of such a wall in occupied territories departing from the armistice line of 1949. Bulgaria, Cameroon, Germany and the United Kingdom abstained. Ten members voted in favour. The United States representative said the text was unbalanced and did not adequately address terrorism.

Also on 19 November, after the Council was told that the peace process was undergoing a period of inertia, excuses and conditionality, it adopted unanimously resolution 1515, endorsing the “Road Map” put forward by the so-called “Quartet” (United States, Russian Federation, European Union, United Nations). The Road Map is a performance-based and goal-driven plan with clear phases, time lines, target dates and benchmarks, aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and ending the occupation that began in 1967 and was officially submitted to the parties on 30 April 2003.

In his briefing of 12 December, Mr. Rød-Larsen said that, due to relative quiet on the ground, willingness of Israeli and Palestinian Prime Ministers to meet, efforts by Egypt to achieve a ceasefire, adoption of resolution 1515, and civil society initiatives such as the Geneva accords, there was now a window of opportunity to put the peace process back on track. To do so, each party had to recognize the core concerns of the other side, roughly defined as territory and terror, as a reality, and both parties and the international community must address them in parallel, not sequentially or with preconditions.

Israel/Lebanon

The Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) twice for six months, most recently by resolution 1496 (2003), unanimously adopted on 31 July. During briefings on the situation in the Middle East, Council’s attention was drawn to the fact that, although the situation along the “Blue Line” generally remained calm, because of continued air violations by Israel and resulting Hezbollah anti-aircraft fire, the situation could escalate. Both parties had to exercise restraint, it was noted, and extension of the Lebanese Government’s authority throughout southern Lebanon would be helpful in diminishing tension.

Israel/Syria

On Sunday, 5 October, the Council met to discuss the Israeli air strike against Syria earlier that day. The strikes followed a suicide bombing the day before in Haifa, Israel, which killed 19 Israelis. While Syria’s representative said the attack, on the pretext of fighting so-called terrorism, was used to justify a policy of colonialism and settlement-building, Israel’s representative stated that Islamic Jihad, which had claimed responsibility for the Haifa attack, had its headquarters in Damascus, Syria.

The mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was extended twice through unanimously adopted resolutions, accompanied by a presidential statement in which the Council identified itself with the Secretary-General's view that "... the situation in the Middle East is very tense and is likely to remain so, unless and until a comprehensive settlement covering all aspects of the Middle East problem can be reached". It did so most recently on 22 December extending UNDOF's mandate until 30 June 2004. The UNDOF has supervised ceasefire and disengagement between Israel and Syria since 1974.

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