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Mid-East: Positive Developments, Situation Fragile

Middle East: positive developments but situation still fragile, says UN official

28 May 2008 - A senior United Nations official today welcomed recent political progress in Lebanon and the start of indirect talks between Israel and Syria, but cautioned that there are still serious challenges to achieve a wider peace in the Middle East.

Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), told reporters after briefing the Security Council that the election of a president in Lebanon and the Israeli-Syrian negotiations "can change the dynamics," adding that he was very happy to be able to report some positive developments this month.

But he also struck a note of caution, noting that he "warned the Council that all these developments are still taking place in an environment which is very fragile and nowhere is that more true than on the Palestinian-Israeli track, which still remains a central issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict."

Mr. Serry welcomed a recent investment conference held in Bethlehem with Israeli support, which resulted in pledges of up to $1.4 billion for the Palestinian economy, as well as new steps announced by Tony Blair, the Representative of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet, to spur economic development.

"These various measures hold promise," he told the 15-member body in an open meeting. "But action on the ground is key."

The "complex political, security, human rights and humanitarian crisis has deepened this past month" in Gaza, the Special Coordinator said in his briefing.

He spoke out against the firing of indiscriminate rockets from Gaza into Israel, with 191 rockets and nearly 200 mortars being fired at Israeli civilian targets during the reporting period.

Mr. Serry also noted that Israel Defence Force (IDF) attacks - both by land and air - have continued. "While we acknowledge Israel's legitimate security concerns, we deplore the killing and injuring of civilians in some of these operations."

In his address to the Council, he said the UN strongly supports Egypt's efforts to curb violence in and around Gaza, adding that the reopening of crossings is crucial for humanitarian relief and commercial flows.

"A calming and easing of the situation in and around Gaza is essential for genuine progress in both the Israel-Palestinian negotiations and in reuniting the West Bank and Gaza within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority," the Special Coordinator said.

He told reporters that the situation in the area "remains a very difficult, unsustainable humanitarian crisis which hasn't become any smaller." Condemning attacks on border crossing points by extremists within Gaza, he also noted that there was a continued Israeli policy on Gaza "which very much amounts to collective punishment," leaving Gaza with a prolonged lack of fuel and other commodities.

"Much more needs to be done to achieve what is so important in this process which is to achieve visible and tangible progress on the ground for the Palestinians," he said following his briefing. "That is very important if at the end of the year we may have a political agreement between the two parties on the two-state solution."

Speaking to reporters after the open meeting, Ambassador John Sawers of the United Kingdom, which holds the rotating Council presidency this month, said that many members "felt that for a change there were some positive elements to highlight over the last month and it wasn't as some previous briefings we've had on this subject."

He added that there was strong support on the Council for talks aimed at achieving an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of the year.

ENDS

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