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UN official calls on Israelis and Palestinians

UN official calls on Israelis and Palestinians to ‘step back from the brink’

Describing the escalating violence of the past few days in the Gaza Strip as a “grave crisis,” a senior United Nations official warned the Security Council today that another full-scale conflict between Israelis and Palestinians could easily be set off, and urged all sides in the region to “step back from the brink.”

Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane called on the Palestinian Authority to stop holding hostages and end indiscriminate rocket attacks, saying “nothing justifies” such actions. She also called on Israel to stop destroying civilian infrastructure, ensure civilians are protected, and allow for humanitarian assistance to get through. In addition, she expressed concern at the arrest of large numbers of the elected Palestinian Government.

“This is a grave crisis. The slightest turn of events could easily set off another full-scale conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, bringing greater dangers to civilians, and with serious regional repercussions. All parties must recognise this, and act with wisdom and care, and in full conformity with international humanitarian law,” she said.

“All concerned parties must step back from the brink, and give dialogue a chance to avert a full-scale confrontation that will only lock Israelis and Palestinians in deeper and deadlier conflict.”

Ms. Kane gave a detailed account to the 15-member body of how the crisis has developed over the past five days, highlighting in particular the capture last Sunday of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, now being held by Palestinian militants in Gaza who have said he will not be set free before Israel releases all Palestinian female and under-age detainees.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled out negotiations over any exchange of prisoners and Ms. Kane went on to highlight the military operation to obtain the release of the Corporal. She also covered the Israeli forces detention of 64 Palestinian Authority officials – including eight ministers and 21 Palestinian Legislative Council members – along with 23 suspected militants.

Riyad Mansour, the Permanent Observer of Palestine, said Israel’s recent military aggression was “clearly premeditated and planned” well prior to the capture of the Israeli military solider on 25 June, he said, adding that Israel had been issuing threats about launching a major invasion of the Gaza Strip. Then, on 28 June, after amassing thousands of troops along the southern border of the Gaza Strip, Israel launched an air and ground military assault by warplanes and tank artillery bombardment, punishing and terrorizing the civilian population. Israel then expanded its aggression into the West Bank, carrying out kidnappings and detention of at least 64 Palestinians, the majority of them high-ranking, democratically-elected officials and holding them, along with 9,000 Palestinians, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

He said it was the duty of the Security Council to address the crisis situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory by condemning Israeli aggression and calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities, compliance with international law, the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces from within the Gaza Strip, and the release of Palestinian officials being detained. A failure to do so would only serve to bolster the occupying power’s impunity. It was not too late for the Security Council to asserts its rightful role and use its authority to bring an end to the breaches being committed and salvaging the prospects for reaching peace on the basis on international law, UN resolutions, the Quarter Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative.

Israel’s representative, Daniel Carmon, said Gaza was now a terror base actively supported by the elected Hamas Government. The aggressive terrorist provocations had persisted only because they were supported by the official Palestinian Government, a terrorist regime with a sworn intent to deny Israelis their most fundamental human rights. But Hamas was not alone in its campaign of terror. The dangerous realities in the Middle East were further inflamed by the active and direct collaboration between Syria, Iran, Hizbollah and Palestinian terror groups, comprising an “axis of terror.”

Israel, like any other responsible Government, could not tolerate a situation in which its citizens were being held hostage by members of a terrorist group, he said. The military operation now taking place was specific in nature and limited in scope, and Israel was taking every effort to minimize any harm to Palestinian civilians. In light of the escalation of Palestinian terrorism, Israel had decided to intensify its efforts to arrest those operatives responsible for terrorist attacks, so they could be tried and brought to justice. He urged the international community to continue applying all possible political pressure on the Palestinian Authority and on the Hamas terrorist organization, including its members and sponsors in Damascus, so as to ensure the immediate and safe release of Gilad Shalit, and to bring to an end the use of Palestinian territory as a base for terrorist operations.

Other participants in the Council debate decried Israel’s military operations as punitive to the civilian population and called for urgent humanitarian assistance to address a dire and worsening situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. They also underscored the importance of a formal response by the Security Council to the situation.

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