International Heavyweights Give Israel Ultimatum - Sharon Defiant
Russia, the European Union, United Nations and the United States of America have jointly issued Israel an ultimatum – demanding an immediate, meaningful ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah.
Sharon remains defiant.
The statement was issued by the “quartet” of envoys representing the EU, UN, Russian Federation and USA – following a meeting the “quartet” had in Madrid, Spain between UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Foreign Minister Josep Pique of Spain, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, and Javier Solana, High Representative for European Union Common Foreign and Security Policy.
This meeting grouped together the northern hemisphere’s most powerful bodies – the outcome is a signal that should Israel not heed its demands it ought not expect the international community to tolerate the Israeli offensive any longer.
It called on all other nations to "preserve, strengthen and assist" the Palestinian Authority and to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains defiant, AP news agency reports: “From a West Bank army base overlooking the scene of the deadliest fighting in Israel's 13-day-old offensive, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon delivered a blunt message: Israel will not pull back until Palestinian militias are crushed. Sharon said he explained to President Bush that "we are in the middle of a battle" which, if abandoned prematurely, would only require another round of fighting later on. "Once we finish, we are not going to stay here," Sharon said. "But first we have to accomplish our mission."
Meanwhile Independent Media reports from inside Jenin say: “The IDF has deployed a large number of troops and intense firepower in an effort to break the Palestinian resistance. Officers in the area have described the battle as a ‘Palestinian Masada,’ saying that there is a huge amount of destruction in the camp, and that the bodies of dozens of dead Palestinians are strewn in the streets.
“Israeli tanks are shooting at people in the street, including those already injured and dead. Israeli forces are still banning ambulances from entering Jenin refugee camp. There are no confirmations yet of how many people are dead or injured, as our source was calling from a mobile phone within the camp,” the Independent Media reporter said.
The UK’s Times newspaper reported from Nablus: “THE doors of the mosque creak open and a foetid stream of damp air escapes from the building that for five days has served as charnel house and field hospital. Inside is death and blood. Ten bodies are lain in a row in the courtyard, while 30 wounded Palestinians walk and crawl, moaning, across the blue linoleum that has been torn up to serve as stretcher, blanket and shroud. In the deepest corner of the war zone that is Nablus kasbah, Palestinian doctors and ambulance workers have been trapped for five days in the al-Baiq Mosque, treating fighters and civilians injured since the Israeli attack on the West Bank’s most famous kasbah began.”
United Nations secretary general Koffi Annan told reporters at a press briefing this morning: "We face continuing intensification of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians; we face [a] mounting humanitarian and human rights crisis in the West bank and Gaza with enormous suffering for the innocent civilian population caught up in the hostilities; and we face rising tensions throughout the region, particularly along Israel's northern border."
Annan warned that “it would be difficult to assess the full gravity of the humanitarian situation without access to all the territories that are now a theatre of battle. But I predict that we will be shocked by what we see”.
Last night a suicide bomber borded a bus near Kibbutz Yagur, located close to Haifa. The Jerusalem Post reported at least eight dead and 17 wounded in the wake of the powerful blast.
Suicide attacks against Israelis, Annan added were "morally repugnant" and indefensible. "Attacks against innocent and unarmed civilians is terrorism that we cannot tolerate," he said.
He then drew attention to the "really deplorable economic and social situation in the occupied territories" and called for stepped-up assistance from the international community to help civilians there and to support the Palestinian Authority.
Again demands were issued that Israel and Palestine implement plans put forward by the Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet, and the committee led by former US Senator George Mitchell.
The Quartet stressed there "must be a defined series of steps leading to permanent peace - involving recognition, normalization and security between the sides, and end to Israeli occupation, and an end to the conflict."
Yasser Arafat was also called on to do everything in his power to stop terror suicide bombing attacks and other forms of terrorism against Israeli civilians.
The Quartet demands Israel allow "full and unimpeded" access to humanitarian organizations and services and to "refrain from the excessive use of force and undertake all possible efforts to ensure the protection of civilians."
As the recognized, elected leader of the Palestinian people, Arafat must instruct the Palestinian Authority to "take all possible steps within its capacity to dismantle terrorist infrastructure" and to stop incitement to violence.
The objective, the “Quartet” said was of "two States, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side within secure and recognized borders," which was expressed by US President George Bush and spelled out in Security Council resolution 1393.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority were also urged to reach agreement on ceasefire proposals put forward by US envoy Anthony Zinni.
“Grave concern” was expressed over fighting between Israel and Lebanon along the UN-determined Blue Line that marks Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon. The Quartet called on all parties to respect the Blue Line and show the utmost restrain.
UN’s Koffi Annan said: "Attacks at any point across the Blue Line, including into the Shabaa farms area in the occupied Golan Heights, are violations of Security Council resolutions," he said. "Respect for decisions of the Security Council is the most basic requirement of international legitimacy."