Global Policy Forum

UN Worried About Escalating Mideast Violence


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
April 17, 2006

As violence in the occupied territories continued to escalate last week, the Palestinians and Israelis traded accusations during an open debate at the Security Council, where an overwhelming majority of the 191 U.N. member states pointed a finger at Israel for the worsening security and humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"Flagrant and grave violations of international law are being committed by the occupying power against the Palestinian civilian population every single day, every hour, even at this very moment," Ambassador Riyad Mansour, permanent observer of Palestine to the United Nations, told delegates Monday.

"Over 9,500 Palestinians are currently being held as political prisoners by the occupying power -- Israel -- including 350 Palestinian children and 120 Palestinian women," he added. Mansour said these prisoners face torture and mistreatment during their arrest and detention, and are consistently denied family and lawyer visits. The Palestinian envoy accused Israel of violating the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs military occupation, and pointed out that the Jewish state continues to "seriously violate" international law by excessive and indiscriminate force against Palestinian civilians.

Ambassador Dan Gillerman of Israel said Monday's suicide bombing -- in which nine people died and over 60 others were wounded -- was "yet another horrific act of terrorism". He accused the official spokesman for Hamas, the radical Islamic party which was elected to power last January, of claiming that the Palestinians "have every right to use all means to defend themselves". "This reaction should not come as a surprise, only two weeks ago the same individual stated that the Hamas movement is committed to all forms of 'resistance', including suicide bombings," Gillerman said.

Asked how concerned he was about the recent escalation in violence, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters Monday: "It is very worrying." But it is important, he said, that neither side takes initiatives that puts civilians at risk, "at grave risk as we have seen, and we need to really remember not only the concerns of the civilians but (also) there are international law obligations in this, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention".

Since Hamas' unexpected electoral victory in the occupied territories, the European Union (EU) and the United States have cut off nearly one billion dollars in aid, as a retaliatory measure for the new government's refusal to recognise the legitimacy of the state of Israel.

But the humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres MSF) warned last week that there "is real danger that the hardships will worsen, particularly in the Gaza Strip, where nearly half of the 1.4 million residents are living below the poverty line". The shelling by the Israeli army is intense (100 to 300 strikes a day since last Friday), "causing serious civilian casualties".

Kris Torgeson, communications director of MSF, said it is not the role of humanitarian aid agencies to ensure that the basic needs of the civilian populations living in the occupied territories are covered. "This responsibility, in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention, is that of the occupying power, namely the state of Israel," he added. Since the United States has declared Hamas a "terrorist organisation", humanitarian organisations and relief agencies dealing with the new Palestinian government can be penalised in U.S. law courts.

Torgeson also said the deterioration of security conditions, as well as recent kidnappings of international personnel, "has already forced us to evacuate our teams several times from our programmes in Nablus, Hebron and Gaza". "What's even worse is the climate of fear and uncertainty among aid organisations because they don't know how far their staffers can go in dealing with Palestinian officials without being liable for prosecution in the United States, which together with the EU already brands Hamas a terrorist organization," says Nadia Hijab of the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies.

Such fears are among the reasons the United Nations has limited contacts with the Palestinian Authority (PA) while the World Bank is reviewing theirs. "This climate is worsened by legislation moving through (U.S.) Congress to take even stronger measures against the PA," she added. Hijab also warned that a complete political and security collapse of the PA could lead to chaos and civil war in Gaza and in the West Bank, creating major headaches for Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the international community, she added.

Over the weekend, the Iranian government pledged about 50 million dollars to the Palestinian government. But the PA has said it needs about 170 million a month for its economic survival. Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan called upon the United Nations and its relief agencies to meet the basic human needs of the Palestinian people. The United Nations, he said, should expand its assistance -- "not terminate or restrict it." "Although others have ended assistance to the Palestinian Authority, the United Nations and its agencies can work out arrangements to channel such assistance as is available multilaterally and bilaterally -- in ways that can strengthen political cohesion and order, rather than heighten division and disorder," he added.

Speaking on behalf of the 114-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Ambassador Hamidon Ali of Malaysia urged the necessity of upholding international law, international humanitarian law, and the charter of the United Nations, with regard to the question of Palestine. "The Security Council must not be reluctant to invoke its functions and powers -- for the sake of the Palestinians and the Israelis, for the sake of the people in the region, and in serving and meeting the collective interest and desire of our global family of nations," he added.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on UN Involvement
More Information on Israel, Palestine, and the Occupied Territories
More Information on Land and Settlement Issues


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