With confidence-building measures being discussed, Israelis and Palestinians are "slowly and not without difficulty" moving to coordinate implementation of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank, the senior United Nations political affairs officer told the Security Council today.
In his regular monthly briefing on the Middle East, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast told the Council that those meetings and talks scheduled in the next few days between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are indicative of a hopeful trend since the beginning of the year.
Yet renewed violence and the low level of mutual trust continue to work against progress. Mr. Prendergast noted that in Israel, opponents of disengagement still voice their opposition to the planned withdrawal. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority still faces a number of serious internal challenges, which have deepened partly as a result of the Authority's efforts to institute comprehensive security reform. He called recent violent incidents among the Palestinians "deeply disturbing."
He also expressed the UN's particular concern over the serious escalation in rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian militants against Israeli targets. Mr. Prendergast reminded both sides of the need to take special care to protect innocent civilians, in accordance with international and humanitarian law.
While there was evidence of a serious effort on the Palestinian side to maintain the calm and, on the Israeli side, of determination not to overreact to isolated incidents, he said he was concerned by the statements of Palestinian factions that they might see themselves as no longer bound by their earlier pledge to maintain a ceasefire.
On the other hand, there had been a resumption during the reporting period of the Israeli practice of targeting Palestinian militants engaged in suspicious activity from the air, Mr. Prendergast noted, reminding both sides of the need to take special care to protect innocent civilians, in accordance with international and humanitarian law.
Turning to the situation in Lebanon, he recalled the brutal car-bomb murder on 2 June of the prominent Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir, noting that Secretary-General Kofi Annan had condemned the killing and called on the Lebanese Government to bring the perpetrators and instigators to justice, ensure the continuation of press freedom and end impunity.
He also said it is imperative at this very delicate period that all concerned exercise the utmost restraint and maintain calm along the Blue Line. Noting the completion of Lebanon's elections on Sunday, he said it is a major achievement for Lebanon to have held elections on time, and called on all concerned parties to respect Lebanon's sovereignty and cease any actions that could be destabilizing.