20 August 2008 – Israel and the Palestinians are continuing their negotiations aimed at devising a durable settlement to their long-running conflict, but intra-Palestinian violence has spiked over the past month, the top United Nations political official told the Security Council today.
In his monthly briefing to the Council on the situation in the Middle East, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe said that negotiations between the two sides as part of the so-called Annapolis peace process had been ongoing at both the political and technical levels.
“It would appear that gaps between the parties’ positions remain and I reiterate the Secretary-General’s call for the need to press ahead to make real progress in overcoming differences to reach the goal of an agreement by the end of this year,” he said.
The Middle East diplomatic Quartet, comprising the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States, will meet in New York next month on the margins of the General Assembly to assess the situation in the region.
Mr. Pascoe noted that indirect talks between Israel and Syria are continuing under Turkish auspices, although a round of talks scheduled for this month has not been held following the news that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will soon be stepping down.
“The fragile ceasefire between Hamas and Israel continues to hold,” he added, although talks for the release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit have stalled and 10 rockets and one mortar were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel without causing casualties.
The Under-Secretary-General voiced concern at a surge in deadly intra-Palestinian violence and political tensions sparked by tensions between members of Hamas and Fatah in Gaza, contributing to the overall total of 43 Palestinians killed and 366 injured during the current reporting period.
Hamas forces have seized control of the remaining Palestinian Authority institutions in Gaza and detained several governors, he said.
“These actions severely prejudice the prospects for Palestinian reunification within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority. We are also concerned at the potential consequences for UN operations in Gaza.”
In addition, Mr. Pascoe said Palestinian security forces in the West Bank had arrested dozens of Hamas activists and closed a number of Hamas-linked institutions, and he called for the release of these detainees by both sides, saying it “could serve as a first step in a process leading to reconciliation.”
The situation on the ground in the West Bank and East Jerusalem remains a cause for concern as well, with three Palestinians – including two children – killed in the past month and 185 others injured.
The two children who were killed were shot by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) using live ammunition against Palestinian demonstrators at a village, while Mr. Pascoe said there has also been a rise in settler violence against Palestinians. Settlement activity also continued, he noted.
Turning to Lebanon, Mr. Pascoe said the past month had been marked by both positive political developments and ongoing security concerns.
Notably, last week the Lebanese cabinet’s ministerial declaration received an overwhelming vote of confidence from the Parliament, which he called “a new and important milestone in the implementation of the Doha agreement” that was struck to resolve internal political tensions.