By Thalif DeenInterpress Service
March 1, 2002
Thursday's Israeli military invasion of Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank drew sharp criticism from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who called for the immediate withdrawal of all troops. "What distresses me this time", he said, "is the large number of Palestinians reported dead or injured as a result of incursions into refugee camps by the Israel Defense Force."
The raids, in the West Bank town of Nablus, claimed the lives of 11 Palestinians, with more than 100 injured, according to early estimates. Battle tanks and helicopter gun ships supported the attacks, described as the fiercest since the current Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.
The United Nations remained virtually paralyzed in the face of continued Israeli attacks, and Annan called on the invading Israeli military forces to "withdraw from these camps immediately."
"I implore both sides to refrain from further actions which may endanger yet more civilians lives," he added. Annan also expressed serious concern that some of the Israeli military attacks have continued without any due respect "to the immunity of humanitarian facilities, including those of the United Nations."
In the last 48 hours, five Israelis and 16 Palestinians have lost their lives in escalating violence in the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza. So far, the 17-month-old Palestinian uprising has claimed a heavy death toll on the Palestinian side: more than 1,000 killed. Some 288 Israelis have died.
Annan's appeal notwithstanding, the United Nations has remained helpless in the face of increasing military attacks by the Israelis against a spate of suicide bombings by Palestinians.
A meeting of the UN Security Council Tuesday, called specifically to discuss the Middle East crisis, ended without any tangible results, although ambassadors from 30 of the 189 UN member states spoke. Faced with the threat of a U.S. veto, Arab countries held back a draft resolution demanding "the immediate cessation of all acts of violence, provocation and destruction, as well as the return to the positions and arrangements which existed prior to September 2000."
Since September 2000, the Israelis have isolated the Palestinians and barred their movement outside the occupied territories. According to the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), there are 72 permanent Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank now, and nine in Gaza. The draft resolution, which never reached the Council, emphasized that "there is no military solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict". It also reaffirmed the need for an "Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied in June 1967 and for establishing normal relations among all states of the region based on mutual recognition and respect."
This is in conformity with a recent proposal by Saudi Arabia for collective Arab recognition of Israel in return for Israel's withdrawal from all occupied territory, including the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, all of which were annexed by the Israelis after the Six Day War in 1967. The resolution also called for international involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, a proposal strongly opposed by both Israel and the United States.
Malaysian Ambassador Hasmy Agam told the Security Council the time was ripe for it to take decisive action to ease the growing tension in the Middle East. "The Security Council has remained effectively sidelined over the years, and prevented from playing a legitimate role in the search for peace in the Middle East," he said. "The United Nations could intervene effectively by dispatching a mission to monitor the situation, ease the tension, and maintain peace and security on the ground."
Last year, the United States vetoed a proposal for the creation of a UN monitoring force to keep the peace in the West Bank and Gaza. An Arab diplomat told IPS: "As long as the United States continues to stand by Israel - right or wrong - there is nothing the United Nations or even European Union can do to resolve the conflict."
Annan has called for third party mediation, perhaps even the intervention of the 15-member European Union (EU), but such efforts are also being resisted both by Israel and the United States.
Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been blocked from leaving his compound and the only airport in the occupied territories remains closed. Earlier this month, Annan said that although Arafat is the leader of the Palestine Authority, his isolation and his house arrest have made it difficult for him to lead.
"He's being asked to stop the violence. He's being asked to lead and yet, as leader, he and his institutions are under so much pressure that I really do not see how that is going to help," Annan said. Last week, he warned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict risked sliding towards a full-fledged war. "Truly, we are nearing the edge of the abyss," Annan said.
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