Welcoming tonight’s Security Council resolution that calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities in the Middle East, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he believed it could serve as a base to reach “a sustainable and lasting ceasefire agreement” in the coming days and ultimately to the start of “a process to solve the underlying political problems in the region through political means.”
In his address to the Council ahead of the vote on the resolution, Mr. Annan said he would work with the Lebanese and Israeli Governments over the weekend to determine “the exact date and time at which the cessation of hostilities will come into effect.”
But the Secretary-General also told the 15-member body how “profoundly disappointed” he was that the Council took so long to agree to such a resolution.
“All members of this Council must be aware that its inability to act sooner has badly shaken the world’s faith in its authority and integrity,” he said.
In a unanimous vote, conducted after weeks of intensive diplomacy with Mr. Annan pushing for action, the 15-member Council called for Hizbollah to stop all attacks immediately and for Israel to cease “all offensive military operations.”
The resolution welcomed the Lebanese Government’s plan to deploy 15,000 of its own troops in the country’s south as Israel withdraws its forces behind the Blue Line “at the earliest,” while at the same time the size and mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is significantly expanded.
During his speech, Mr. Annan said that too many children have died in the conflict, and Lebanon’s economy and infrastructure have been devastated at a time when its population was “making real progress towards political reform and economic recovery.”
The country’s attempts to “cast off the chains of external interference and domestic strife” will require not only constructive cooperation among Lebanon’s different groups, but “mutual goodwill and sustained dialogue” with key figures in the region, including the Syrian and Iranian Governments.
Voicing “pride and admiration for the courage” of UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeepers, as well as UN humanitarian workers, he observed that UNIFIL faces a task under the resolution “perhaps even more difficult and dangerous than its previous one.
“It must be robust and effective, and ensure that no vacuum is left between the Israeli withdrawal and the deployment of Lebanese forces,” he said, adding it must be provided with sophisticated military capabilities and additional troops as soon as possible.
Mr. Annan also called for:
humanitarian convoys and relief workers to be given “a real guarantee of safe passage and access to those who need help”;
a resolution of the Shebaa Farms border dispute in accordance with resolution 1680;
the release of prisoners in the region, “starting with those who have been taken hostage”;
potential donors to respond swiftly to requests from Lebanon for financial help;
and the Security Council and the wider international community to tackle the crises in the Middle East “not in isolation or bilaterally, but as part of a holistic and comprehensive effort.”He also warned Council members not to turn their backs “on the bloodshed, suffering and hardship” suffered by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, or the danger to Israelis from rockets launched from inside Gaza.
The Lebanese Government said more than 1,000 of its civilians have been killed and another 3,600 others have been injured, while about a quarter of the population – or a million people – have been displaced from their homes. Some 41 Israeli civilians have also died, while many others have had to flee their homes or seek shelter from rocket attacks.
Lebanon’s Acting Foreign Minister Tarek Mitri told the Council that while his country is eager to see a cessation of hostilities, the nature of the cessation must be the same for both sides. “The Lebanese are not confident in [an] Israeli distinction between ‘defensive’ and ‘offensive.’ The end to military operations should be unqualified,” he said, adding that “the obscenely disproportionate and unjustifiable Israeli retaliation” has already led to the deaths of more than 1,000 Lebanese.
Although Dr. Mitri welcomed the Council’s acknowledgement of the Shebaa Farms issue, he said a durable political solution to the crises in the Middle East cannot “be implemented as long as Israel continues to occupy Arab land in Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank and in the Syrian Golan Heights, and wages war on innocent people in Lebanon and Palestine.”
Israeli ambassador Dan Gillerman said the resolution represented “an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past and to create a genuine new reality in our region,” citing the prohibition against the supply of weapons to armed groups in Lebanon and “a radically different international force with a mandate and capabilities… to create a new situation in Lebanon in which the borders will be secure.”
Stressing, however, that the resolution will not work unless there is international will to implement it, Mr. Gillerman warned against any moderation towards those who conduct or support “the campaign of terror, motivated by fanatical intent and backed by lethal weapons of destruction,” both inside and outside the Middle East.
United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice welcomed the resolution’s adoption but said “now, the hard and urgent work of implementation begins.” She urged the Governments of Israel and Lebanon to commit to ending large-scale violence, adding that “Hizbollah now faces a clear choice between war and peace, and the world should help to ensure that the choice is the right one.” The most pressing challenge is to help thousands of displaced people, she said, pledging the support of the US in this effort.
“Finally, the Security Council of the United Nations is deciding to halt war in Lebanon and Israel,” said the Minister of Foreign Affairs of France, Philippe Douste-Blazy. “Finally an end has been to the destruction, to the thousands of displaced persons, to an economic, humanitarian situation that is getting more tragic each day.” He called on all countries to contribute to a reinforced UNIFIL, and said France, which is already part of the Force, is examining the additional supplementary support that it might be able to provide.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani, said the Security Council should have adopted a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire since the first day of the current hostilities. The resolution, though welcome, “lacks balance and overlooks the accumulated, complicated, historical, social and political factors that have culminated in the current situation in the region.” It did not address the destruction caused by Israel nor its legal and humanitarian responsibility.
He also announced that the League of Arab States would seek to convene a high-level Security Council meeting in September aimed at adopting a new resolution to establish a just peace in the region within a set time frame.