Russian Federation to Provide Troops for Future UN Missions - New York, April 6 2002
The Russian Federation has signed an agreement with the United Nations to provide troops for future peacekeeping operations.
Russia is the 38th country to sign up troops for UN peacekeeping missions.
Under the arrangement, the Russian Government will provide field engineers and four transport helicopters, which will remain on standby until needed.
The agreement comes within hours of Russia taking part in an Israel-bound envoy "quartet" led by US Secretary of State Colin Powell. The team is scheduled to be in Israel within days.
Yesterday, United States President George W Bush relented to international pressure for him to be "more active" in advancing a ceasefire between Israel's armed forces and Palestinian resistance. Bush said in a speech on the Whitehouse Rose Garden lawn that Israel must withdraw from Palestinian territories and advance a ceasefire.
But this morning New Zealand time, the Bush administration appeared to procrastinate on what its demands on Israel actually meant.
Bush's press secretary Ari Fleischer said: "Major events don't necessarily happen overnight: "Fleischer told reporters traveling with Bush in Texas. "Still," he said, "the president expects results, and he expects them as soon as possible."
Fleischer also said Bush does not expect the "envoy quartet" to meet with Palestinian president Yasser Arafat.
But Powell consistently has argued the United States and Israel must deal with Arafat as the Palestinians' choice. Even the exile threatened by Sharon would not change that, Powell said this week. His appears to be a lone voice at the top level US government.
In Ramallah United States envoy Anthony Zinni had a 90-minute meeting with Yasser Arafat at his battered, encircled compound. Arafat has been confined to a few rooms in his headquarters by Israeli troops since last Friday. Zinni was the first senior American official to meet with him during his confinement.
While tanks surrounded the compound and Israeli soldiers used stun granades to push back accompanying journalists, Zinni discussed options with Arafat. Arafat told Zinni that he backs a cease-fire deal negotiated last year by CIA chief George Tenet. Israel and the Palestinians have been at odds over the timetable for implementing the agreement.
Outside gunfire rang out. Jerome Marcantetti, a cameraman with the LCI news channel of French broadcaster TF1 was shot in the thigh after Israeli soldiers fired "warning shots" threatening journalists to back out of the area.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops and tanks pushed into another town in the northern West Bank on Friday despite Bush's appeal for a withdrawl. Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer vowed last night: "We are finishing the operation we started."
The day's heaviest fighting came in the northern West Bank town of Nablus, where smoke from burning vehicles and buildings filled the air as Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships fought pitched battles with hundreds of Palestinian gunmen. Houses in the Balata refugee camp and the winding alleyways of the casbah, or old city, were peppered with heavy machine gun fire. Israeli rockets rained on the city's eastern market district, destroying hundreds of shops and stalls, witnesses said. Gunmen at one point holed up in a small shampoo factory, which was demolished by rockets while civilians living nearby cowered in their homes.
In Geneva the UN's Commission on Human Rights condemned what it called the “frightening increase in the loss of life” in the occupied Palestinian territory, and requested High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson head a mission that would travel immediately to the occupied Palestinian territories and report findings back to the Commission.
Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), told reporters today about an “unprecedented” situation in Palestinian refugee camps. Hansen said the destruction of infrastructure and water lines and the cutting off of electricity, the destruction of hospitals and the shooting ambulances, was appauling.
The number of ambulances hit during the present crisis, he said, is at least 185, including three-quarters of UNRWA’s own ambulances as well as vehicles of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. Hansen added that in recent days, four drivers and three doctors have been killed, with an additional 122 doctors and drivers injured.
Israel also advanced the offensive on a new front: Israeli warplanes rocketed suspected guerrilla positions in southern Lebanon on Friday after Lebanese guerrillas renewed attacks on Israeli posts in a disputed border area, defying warnings that fighting could open another front in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Statements on the Israeli IDF website said helicopters were also taking part in the fresh round of fighting with Hezbollah.
United Nations secretary general Koffi Annan said since the parties, Israel and Palestinian leaders are: "unable, on their own, to find a way out of the present situation, third party mediation is needed more than ever.
"In this connection," Annan said, "I strongly welcome President Bush's decision to send (U.S.) Secretary (of State) Powell to the region."