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Mideast Peace Conference Significant Breakthrough

Middle East peace conference a 'significant breakthrough,' says top UN official

This week's conference in the United States was "the most significant breakthrough" in the Middle East peace process in several years, but the difficult humanitarian and security situation on the ground should not be overlooked, the top United Nations political official told the Security Council today.

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe said violence continues to plague both Palestinians and Israelis and the humanitarian conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially the Gaza Strip, were "a source of acute concern."

But Mr. Pascoe stressed that the conference, held in the city of Annapolis earlier this week, offered a "clear way forward" to end the conflict, with the leaders of the two sides having agreed to launch immediately good-faith negotiations to try to conclude a peace treaty by the end of next year that resolves all outstanding issues.

"For 60 years the Israeli State has feared for its survival and the survival of its people," he said. "For 60 years the Palestinian people have wandered and suffered in search of a State. It is time for the Palestinians to have a home of their own. It is time for the Israelis to feel at peace in their home. The time to act is now. Let us go forward and each play our part."

Reiterating the full support of the UN for the peace process, the Under-Secretary-General said more efforts have to be made to ease the situation on the ground, which remains tense.

Since his last briefing to the Council, Mr. Pascoe said 42 Palestinians had been killed, 133 others injured and at least 346 detained by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), while two Israelis were killed and six others injured as well. In Gaza, the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit entered his eighteenth month of captivity, and Palestinian militants fired over 116 rockets and 121 mortars. Factional fighting among Palestinians also intensified.

Mr. Pascoe noted that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has raised his strong concerns about the humanitarian situation inside the Gaza Strip, where the closure or restrictions of border crossing points into Israel have hurt the economy and made it difficult for local Palestinians to obtain vital health care and other services.

Turning to Lebanon, he said that the extensive diplomatic efforts to mediate between the parties - which have been divided for months over the appointment of a new president to succeed Emile Lahoud, whose term ended last week - are ongoing, aimed at bridging the political divide.

Meanwhile, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said it has observed a significant number of Israeli overflights in the past few days and is reporting these incidents to the Security Council via the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Gen. Claudio Graziano, the UNIFIL Force Commander, has also raised the issue with the Israeli army commander, voicing his serious concern and asking them to stop the violations.

In related news, the General Assembly today concluded a two-day debate on the Question of Palestine and also held a meeting on the situation in the Middle East.

The UN Bureau of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People also issued a statement welcoming the holding of the conference in Annapolis and the Joint Understanding that was reached by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Ehud Olmert.


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