With the situation in the Middle East still "very tense and likely to remain so" pending a comprehensive settlement, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recommended extending for six months the United Nations operation supervising the ceasefire between Syrian and Israeli forces.
In a report to the Security Council released today at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Annan states that while the situation in the Israeli-Syrian sector has been "generally quiet," the continued presence of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) - first deployed in 1974 - remains essential. He notes that both Syria and Israel have agreed to the proposed extension, which would carry the Force through 31 December.
"In making this recommendation, I must draw attention to the shortfall in the Funding of the Force," Mr. Annan writes, noting some $19 million in current unpaid assessments for UNDOF. The sum represents money owed to the Member States that contribute the troops who make up the Force. "I appeal to the Member States to pay their assessments promptly and in full and to clear all remaining arrears."
The report notes that the ceasefire in the UNDOF-monitored sector was maintained with two exceptions: one violent incident in the Shab'a farms area near Lebanon, and a shooting incident immediately west of the ceasefire line and technical fence, in which one member of the Syrian security forces was shot and killed and another was taken into custody by an Israel Defence Force (IDF) patrol. UNDOF intervened and secured the eventual release of the detainee.
Mr. Annan also stresses that in UNDOF's area of operation, especially in the area of separation, mines continued to pose a threat to Force personnel and locals. "Due to the age of the mines and their deteriorating explosives, that threat has in fact increased," he says, noting that UNDOF has continued to support activities of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) to promote mine awareness among the civilian population.
Commenting on the general need to resolve the current Middle East crisis, the Secretary-General writes, "I hope that determined efforts will be made by all concerned to tackle the problem in all its aspects, with a view to arriving at a just and durable peace settlement, as called for by the Security Council in its resolution 338 (1973)."
That text called for peace talks and reaffirmed an earlier milestone Council resolution - 242 of 1967 - which requires the withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories and an end to all claims of belligerency, as well as an acknowledgement of the right of all States in the region to live in peace. Together, resolutions 242 and 338 are considered the basis for an overall settlement in the Middle East.