Israelis and Palestinians engaged in most intensive talks in eight years –

Israelis and Palestinians are currently engaged in the most intensive negotiations on issues pertaining to final status since the political process broke down almost eight years ago, a senior United Nations official told an open meeting of the Security Council today.However, Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane warned the 15-member body that “the significance of this should not be underestimated, but neither should the grave risks to the process be overlooked.”She noted that there have been several major incidents of violence recently, particularly in and around Gaza.The area “has also witnessed heightened humanitarian distress, while conditions in the West Bank including East Jerusalem have not significantly improved despite continuing efforts,” Ms. Kane said in her briefing to the Council on the events of the past month.During the reporting period, Ms. Kane said, 69 Palestinians, including 15 children, were killed in operations of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and 95 injured, while six Israelis were killed by Palestinian militants and 27 injured.“We are deeply alarmed at the prospects of a further intensification of violence, given the terrible implications for civilians and the threat such conflict would pose to the security of all parties – the Palestinians, Israel and Egypt,” she said, calling on the latter country to continue its efforts towards bringing calm to Gaza.Following the 9 April attack on the Nahal Oz fuel terminal the Israeli Government is re-examining security mechanisms for secure commercial fuel delivery into Gaza.“Had Nahal Oz not been able to reopen today, the [Gaza] power plant would have shut down and most areas of Gaza would have experienced increased electricity cuts,” the Assistant Secretary-General said.Low levels of fuel have resulted in vehicular transport being brought to a standstill and 15-20 per cent of the Gazan population receiving water for 3-5 hours every four days.Some 60,000 cubic meters of raw and partially treated sewage is dumped into the Mediterranean Sea daily, and most fishing vessels have been grounded, meaning the sardine season will be lost, Ms. Kane reported.Humanitarian agencies are also being impacted. The fuel supplies of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) will run out on 24 April, and in a bid to conserve fuel, it is prioritizing food distribution, solid waste removal and sewage projects.“As of tomorrow, unless petrol is allowed in, UNRWA will discontinue its food assistance to 650,000 refugees as well as its garbage collection services benefiting 500,000 Gazans,” she said, adding that a further 500,000 people in one dozen municipalities are living without any solid waste management capacity, mostly due to the lack of fuel.The Assistant Secretary-General welcomed the Israeli Government’s removal of obstacles in the West Bank. However, UN staff have found that only 44 have been removed, of which only five were significant.“We welcome these removals, but strongly urge further and more substantive progress to ease restrictions as envisaged in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access and is vital to Palestinian economic revival,” she observed.She also voiced support for the re-affirmation of the Arab Peace Initiative, “which remains a central element in the search for peace in the region. We encourage Arab support for President [Mahmoud] Abbas’ efforts to negotiate a peace treaty with Israel; Prime Minister [Salam] Fayad’s efforts to build the institutions of a future Palestinian state; and for Palestinian unity.”On Lebanon, Ms. Kane said the country is undergoing “an intense political crisis” that has prevented the presidential election, with the top office having remained vacant since late last November.Furthermore, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has noticed a sharp increase in the daily number of Israeli air violations, which surged from 282 in February to 692 in March and reached 476 in the first half of April alone.“The overflights constitute violations of Lebanese sovereignty and the Blue Line and continue to undermine the credibility of UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces,” Ms. Kane stated.On 2 May, the principals of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet – consisting of the UN, European Union, United States and Russian Federation – are gathering in London for a meeting chaired by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to assess the process launched in Annapolis in November 2007.Mr. Ban, along with Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process Robert Serry, are working with both sides, the regional partners and within the Quartet “to support the political process, encourage action to meet commitments and improve conditions on the ground, and address the grave humanitarian, political and security situation in and around Gaza,” the Assistant Secretary-General told the Security Council. 23 April 2008Israelis and Palestinians are currently engaged in the most intensive negotiations on issues pertaining to final status since the political process broke down almost eight years ago, a senior United Nations official told an open meeting of the Security Council today. read more