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


Security Council
2004 Round-up
SC/8301
31 January 2005



TERRORISM, IRAQ, MIDDLE EAST, SUDAN AMONG CRITICAL ISSUES
BEFORE SECURITY COUNCIL IN 2004

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Following are summaries of major Council activities in 2004:

Middle East

Israel/Palestine

Monthly briefings by senior Secretariat staff on the Middle East situation, including the question of Palestine, were dominated by reports of persistent violence and suffering on both sides, as well as by the December 2003 announcement by Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of his intention to withdraw the military and settlements from the Gaza Strip, where Israel controls approximately 40 per cent of the land.  Yasser Arafat’s death on 11 November and the scheduled January 2005 elections for a new Palestinian Authority President prompted fresh analysis of the situation in the context of the so-called post-Arafat era.

The Council heard, in the year’s first two briefings, that the “narrow window of opportunity” cited at the end of 2003 had not opened wider and that the peace process remained in stalemate.  A cautiously positive view of the situation was tempered by the grim reality that 11 Israelis and 65 Palestinians had died in the month between the briefings.  Since October 2000, nearly 10,000 people lost their homes.  Concerning the Gaza withdrawal, attention was drawn to the Secretary-General’s view that it must be seen as a first step to be made in the context of the Road Map and as part of a cooperative engagement involving Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the international community. 

[The Road Map is a performance-based, goal-driven plan with clear phases, timelines, target dates and benchmarks, aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ending the occupation that began in 1967.  It was put forward by the “Quartet” –- United States, Russian Federation, European Union, United Nations -- and officially handed over to the parties on 30 April 2003.]

March saw an increase in violence, death and suffering, but Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Danilo Türk told the Council on 18 March that a “small window of opportunity” remained for restarting the peace process.  He urged the Israeli Government to provide a timetable for its Gaza withdrawal, while reporting that since the briefing in February, 101 more people had lost their lives to the conflict, 80 Palestinians and 21 Israelis, bringing the death toll since September 2000 to 946 Israelis and 3,245 Palestinians. 

On 23 March, following Israel’s targeted assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, which had been preceded by a suicide bombing at the Israeli port of Ashdod, the Council held an open debate in which many of the 41 speakers condemned the assassination and considered its ramifications.  Calling the killing a new war crime, Palestine’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations said that Israel’s policies were not an attempt to counter terrorism, but rather to instigate it in the Middle East and beyond.  Israel’s representative, noting that his country would not negotiate by day and bury its dead by night, retorted that the Palestinian leadership could continue to “get into bed with terrorists and tyrants” or it could prove to the world that it was ready to assume its responsibilities by establishing a democratic society that respected the rights of its people and its neighbours.

Two days later, on 25 March, the Council failed to adopt a resolution that would have condemned the extrajudicial execution and called for the complete cessation of the practices.  The draft, tabled by Algeria and Libya, was defeated by a vote of 11 in favour to 1 against (United States), with 3 abstentions (Germany, Romania, United Kingdom).  Before the vote, the representative of the United States said the text was silent about the terrorist atrocities committed by Hamas and did not reflect the realities of the conflict or further the goals of peace and security in the region.  He was deeply troubled by the killing, which had escalated tensions, but the Security Council did nothing to contribute to a peaceful settlement when it condemned one party’s actions and turned a blind eye to everything else occurring in the region.  The representatives of Germany, Romania and the United Kingdom agreed that the text was unbalanced. 

The Council held another open debate, on 19 April, following the targeted killing by Israel of another Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, who had been named on 24 March to succeed Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Deeming the conflict to be at a crucial and potentially seminal juncture, Terje Rød-Larsen, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, stressed in his briefing on 23 April that the Gaza withdrawal, if carried out in the right way, could usher in a new era of peacemaking.  If it was implemented in the wrong way, it would lead to more violence, possibly bringing the situation to a new low in the “dismal annals” of the Palestinian-Israeli tragedy.  The choices that the parties made now would shape the future of Middle East peace for years to come.

On 19 May, following the killings of Palestinians, including children, and the demolition of homes by the Israeli occupying forces in the Rafah refugee camp, and the expressed intent of further destruction at Rafah, the Council expressed grave concern about the humanitarian situation of Palestinians made homeless in the Rafah area and called on Israel to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law, particularly the obligation not to undertake home demolitions.

Resolution 1544 (2004) of 19 May, in which the Council reaffirmed its support for the Road Map, was adopted by a vote of 14 in favour to none against and 1 abstention (United States).  The representative of the United States, informing the Council that his Government had urged the Israeli Government to exercise maximum restraint, said that Palestinian terrorists had been smuggling weapons through Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority had not taken sufficient action to halt those activities. 

A few days later, on 21 May, Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, expressed his regret at having to deliver a melancholy report, full of death, destruction and human misery.  The statistics were grim in terms of dead and wounded on both sides.  The Israeli army had demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes in breach of its international obligations, economic conditions were worsening, the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, although stable, was at a very low point, there were visible signs of donor fatigue, and deadlock still prevailed politically.  There was a better way, and that was the Road Map.  While it was not new, it was viable, once the leadership on both sides had the vision and courage to start following it in good faith and with determination to the end.

The briefings between June and October reflected a similar set of circumstances, with Mr. Prendergast declaring in June that bad as the situation was, it could still get worse.  Those who were waiting for guarantees in order to start moving towards peace would wait for a long time.  In July, Mr. Rød-Larsen reported no tangible progress towards implementation of the Road Map and called on the parties to carry out the crucial task of the Gaza withdrawal.  To the world community, he said there were only two options:  “Either we act, all the time, patiently and tirelessly, trying to find a way out of this conflict, or we sit and watch as more people bleed.  The choice is for each of us to make.”

Similarly, in August, Mr. Prendergast reported that there had been no tangible progress towards resuming the peace process.  Calling September a “bad month in the Middle East”, he pointed to a marked increase in the number of casualties on both sides, a resumption of suicide bombings, and no good news to report on implementation of the Road Map.  The past five weeks had been overshadowed by the first major suicide bombing since March, as well as by a number of Israeli military operations, incursions and destructive acts.  Also worrying had been Prime Minister Sharon’s statement that Israel was not following the Road Map and might stay in the West Bank long after any Gaza pullout.

In the wake of escalating deadly violence in the Gaza Strip, the Council convened an emergency meeting on 4 October at the request of the Algerian delegation on behalf of the Arab States.  That country’s representative warned that the unfettered use of brute force would persist as Israel had promised more death and destruction, bearing down on an already suffering civilian population.  Israel’s representative, claiming that the Council had been galvanized into action, not because of the murder of children, but rather in defence of them, urged the Council to stand by the side of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, and to remind the Palestinian side that the path to peace and security lay in the end of terrorism and the beginning of reform.

On 5 October, a draft resolution that would have demanded an end to the Israeli military offensive in Gaza was defeated owing to a negative vote by the United States.  Eleven members voted in favour, and 3 abstained (Germany, Romania, United Kingdom).  The representative of the United States said the text was “dangerously disingenuous” because of what it failed to say.  When the rest of the world “ganged up” on Israel with silence about terrorism, it did not advance the cause of peace.

In his regular briefing on 22 October, Mr. Prendergast said he had painfully little that was positive to report on the situation and much that was negative.  Describing the statistics as staggering, he said that in just over a month, 206 Palestinians and 13 Israelis had been killed, and approximately 1,033 Palestinians and 62 Israelis injured.  The number of Palestinians killed since September 2000 was now 3,838, and that of Israelis totalled 979.  Even to speak in terms of a peace process seemed to put one at a distance from present reality, he noted.

On 15 November, Mr. Rød-Larsen, announcing that the briefing was his last in his capacity as Special Coordinator and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, delivered a message to the opponents of Middle East peace:  “It is time to wrest control from them and to take charge.  The need to act could not be any clearer.”  Asserting that the passing of Mr. Arafat marked the end of an era, he urged both the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the friends of both peoples around the world, to strive harder to bring about the peaceful realization of Palestinian self-determination.

Stressing on 16 December that there was, once again, a window of opportunity to revitalize the peace process, Mr. Prendergast urged the international community to encourage the parties to persevere as they moved along the “narrow and difficult road” to a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.  Both parties seemed to have realized the potential for change inherent in the present situation:  support among the Palestinian public for violent acts and terror directed against Israelis had declined dramatically; and the optimism and hope prevailing among Palestinians was mirrored on the Israeli side.

A recent poll had shown that, for the first time since September 2000, a majority of Palestinians opposed all acts of violence against Israelis, he noted.  In contrast to previous polls, the survey had also found that Palestinians once again looked to the future with hope.  On the Israeli side, the latest Peace Index had shown that 70 per cent of the Jewish Israeli public was now more optimistic about the chances of peace with the Palestinians, and a clear majority of 75 per cent favoured the resumption of talks.  Many Israelis believed that the current Palestinian leadership had been handling Palestinian Authority affairs positively.

Israel/Lebanon

The Council twice extended the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for six-month periods, most recently by resolution 1553 (2004), unanimously adopted on 29 July.  The Secretary-General, in his report and addendum on the situation, dated 21 July (documents S/2004/572 and Add.1), had warned of mounting tensions at the “Blue Line”, or withdrawal line, between Israel and Lebanon and recommended extending the Force’s mandate for a further six months until January 2005.  He also cited ongoing clashes, warning that “considerable risk remains that hostile acts will escalate and lead the parties into conflict”.

Lebanon

On 2 September, the Council declared its support for a free and fair presidential election in Lebanon conducted according to Lebanese constitutional rules devised without foreign interference or influence and, in that connection, called on all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from that country.  By a vote of 9 in favour (Angola, Benin, Chile, France, Germany, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom, United States), none again and 6 abstentions (Algeria, Brazil, China, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation), the Council adopted resolution 1559 (2004), reaffirming its call for the strict respect of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout the country.

The text drew sharp criticism from the Secretary-General of Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Mohamad Issa, who said that friendly Syria had helped his country maintain stability and security.  Syrian troops had been deployed and redeployed at Lebanon’s request and had contributed to rebuffing the radical reactions emanating from repulsive Israeli actions.  He stressed that matter relating to the upcoming presidential elections was “purely internal”.

The French and United States representatives, whose delegations had introduced the text, asserted that Syrian actions in the previous week had made a mockery of the principle of a free and fair presidential electoral process, with the Syrian Government imposing its political will on Lebanon and compelling its Cabinet and National Assembly to amend its Constitution, thereby extending the term of the current President by three years.  Persistent serious interference in the political life of Lebanon might cause it to retreat from the objectives consistently reaffirmed by the international community.

Among those who had abstained from voting, Pakistan’s representative said the resolution was not consistent with the Council’s functions and responsibilities.  Moreover, there was no evidence of any urgent threat to peace and no complaint from the country whose sovereignty and integrity the draft purported to uphold.

On 19 October, following a report of the Secretary-General indicating that the resolution had not yet been implemented (document S/2004/777) dated 1 October, the Council reaffirmed its strong support for Lebanon’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence and noted with concern that the requirements set out in resolution 1559 had not been met.

Israel/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 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”.  The most recent extension was on 15 December and stretched UNDOF’s mandate until 30 June 2005.  The UNDOF has supervised the ceasefire and disengagement between Israel and Syria since 1974. 

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For information media - not an official record