Renewing his urgent appeal for an end to the civilian carnage in Lebanon and northern Israel and condemning both that country’s use of excessive force as well as Hizbollah’s recklessness, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today proposed elements for a political framework aimed at achieving a lasting solution to the conflict.
“Both the deliberate targeting by Hizbollah of Israeli population centres with hundreds of indiscriminate weapons and Israel’s disproportionate use of force and collective punishment of the Lebanese people must stop,” Mr. Annan told the Security Council upon his return to UN Headquarters today.
Painting a grim picture of the widespread devastation, he noted that already, over 300 Lebanese have been killed and more than 600 wounded – mainly civilians, about one third of them children. “Much of the infrastructure in Beirut and around the country has been destroyed,” he said. “Lebanon remains under an Israeli military blockade, imposed by sea and air.”
At the same time, he observed that the Israeli people, “who had hoped that Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon… would bring security along their northern border, find themselves under constant Hezbollah rocket attacks, which every day reach further into Israeli territory.” To date 28 Israelis have been killed and over 200 wounded.
Humanitarian conditions continue to worsen, and the UN is unable to respond with aid. “Israeli operations have made it impossible for UN agencies and their humanitarian partners to reach almost any part of southern Lebanon, even to assess the needs, let alone to deliver the actual assistance needed.”
The Secretary-General said the abducted Israeli soldiers “must be released as soon as possible, and in any event the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) must be granted immediate access to them.”
He added that the Israeli Government “must allow humanitarian agencies access to civilians. And the democratically elected Government of Lebanon must be urgently supported in its hour of crisis.”
In parallel with these “urgent steps,” he said a political framework must be developed for a lasting settlement of the conflict, voicing his conviction that “most people in the region rightly reject a simple return to the status quo ante, since any truce based on such a limited outcome could not be expected to last.”
The Secretary-General was blunt in describing the findings of the mission he sent to the region, headed by his Special Adviser Vijay Nambiar. “Let me be frank with the Council,” he said. “The mission’s assessment is that there are serious obstacles to reaching a ceasefire, or even to diminishing the violence quickly.”
Despite the fact that “a full ceasefire remains difficult to achieve at this time,” he said the international community must make its position clear on “the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and a far greater and more credible effort by Israel to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure while the conditions for such a cessation are urgently developed.”
The team has suggested elements which must form the political basis of a lasting ceasefire, and on which they have conducted consultations with the leaders of Lebanon and Israel.
Those elements include the transfer of the Israeli soldiers whose capture sparked the crisis to Lebanese authorities under the auspices of the ICRC, with a view to their repatriation, and an ensuing ceasefire.
On the Lebanese side of the Blue Line – as the line of withdrawal is known – an expanded peacekeeping force would work to stabilize the situation, working with the Lebanese Government to help strengthen its army, deploy it fully throughout the area and establish Government sovereignty and control there.
At the same time, the Prime Minister of Lebanon would unequivocally confirm to the Secretary-General and the Security Council that his country will respect the Blue Line in its entirety until agreement on Lebanon’s final international boundaries is reached.
A donor framework would be established to secure funding for an urgent package of aid, reconstruction and development for Lebanon, while a mechanism involving key regional and international actors would be set up to monitor and guarantee the implementation of all aspects of the agreement, Mr. Annan said.
On the origins of the fighting, he said the trigger was Hizbollah’s “provocative attack” on 12 July. The Lebanese Government clearly had no advance knowledge of this attack, which Mr. Annan condemned at the time, acknowledging Israel’s right to self-defence. He repeated that condemnation today, also condemning “Hizbollah’s reckless disregard for the wishes of the elected Government of Lebanon, and for the interests of the Lebanese people and the wider region.”
While Israel states that it has no quarrel with the Government or the people of Lebanon, and that it is taking extreme precautions to avoid harm to them, “a number of its actions have hurt and killed Lebanese civilians and military personnel and caused great damage to infrastructure.” The excessive use of force is to be condemned, Mr. Annan said.
The Secretary-General cited Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, who said Israel’s actions had “torn the country to shreds.” He also noted the observation of the Nambiar team that Israel’s operations, whatever their effect on Hizbollah’s military capabilities, “are doing little or nothing to decrease popular support for Hezbollah in Lebanon or the region, but are doing a great deal to weaken the Government of Lebanon.”
Mr. Annan also voiced concern about Gaza, where Palestinians “are suffering deeply, with well over 100, many of them civilians, killed in the last month alone.” He called for “an immediate cessation of indiscriminate and disproportionate violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a reopening of closed crossing-points, without which Gaza will continue to be sucked into a downward spiral of suffering and chaos, and the region further inflamed.”
The Secretary-General emphasized that only the simultaneous implementation of the different elements of the package he put forward will allow for the transformation of any cessation of hostilities into a durable ceasefire. “When this is achieved, the international community will need to develop a framework for the final delineation of the borders of Lebanon and a decisive revival of the Middle East peace process,” he said.