21 December 2007The top United Nations political officer today called for an Israeli freeze on settlements and removal of unauthorized outposts and for Palestinian steps to end violence, terrorism and incitement, warning that the next few months are critical for the renewed peace process between the two sides. “Solid progress will be essential in the bilateral negotiations,” Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe told the Security Council, after the re-launching of peace talks last month and this month’s successful donor conference in Paris to finance a revival of the Palestinian economy. “This however is unlikely to be achieved, or to be sustainable, without serious improvements on the ground. Donors must follow through on their commendable Paris commitments, and the parties must act to fulfil their responsibilities, so that a new climate of confidence, security and physical mobility is established,” he said. The Council later issued a press statement welcoming the Paris conference, calling it “an important step in a broader process aiming at the realization of the vision of two States living side by side in peace and security.” The 15-member body urged donors to rapidly disburse their pledges. Mr. Pascoe stressed that developments on the ground, including new Israeli settlement activity and ongoing Palestinian violence have been a cause of concern. “The goal in the weeks and months ahead must be to generate real momentum on all aspects of the peace process,” he declared. He noted that Israel had announced tenders for the construction of 307 new housing units in the settlement of Har Homa and that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had already reaffirmed the UN position on the illegality of settlements. He recalled that Phase One of the Road Map, the two-State solution advocated by the Quartet (UN, European Union, Russia and United States), requires Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including so-called “natural growth.” At the same time, 216 rockets and mortars had been fired in the past month by Palestinian militants in Gaza either at crossings points or at Israel. “We condemn these indiscriminate attacks, which endanger civilians in Israeli communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip, have caused injuries and damage, and disrupted the lives of thousands of Israelis,” Mr. Pascoe said. “These attacks also threaten the safety of humanitarian workers at the crossings.” He noted that Israeli forces conducted deadly raids into the Gaza Strip, targeting militants allegedly responsible for rocket attacks, and that Islamic Jihad had threatened to resume suicide attacks inside Israel. In the past month 37 Palestinians were killed, and 71 injured, by Israeli forces, 2 Palestinians killed and 21 injured in internal violence, and 11 Israelis were injured by Palestinian militants. Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Gaza remains of “grave concern” with crossings restricted for people and goods; only 13 basic categories of food and household items, medical supplies and some water sanitation equipment allowed in; and exports from Gaza virtually stopped, he said. At least 14 Palestinians have died after permission to exit Gaza for medical treatment was denied or delayed. “Without the resumption of the regular flow of imports and exports, Gaza’s socio-economic and humanitarian conditions will continue to deteriorate,” he added. Turning to Lebanon, Mr. Pascoe said the on-going lack of agreement on electing a new president and the resultant constitutional void was a matter of great concern. “The current situation is dangerous and unsustainable,” he stressed. “It is of fundamental importance for the Lebanese State that all Lebanese leaders seek a solution that enables presidential elections to take place immediately. “This is all the more necessary given the continuing attacks on Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability, most recently illustrated by the brutal assassination of General Francois el-Hajj of the Lebanese Armed Forces,” he added. In south Lebanon, the situation has remained calm but an increased number of Israeli air violations were recorded at the end of November, in contravention of UN Security Council resolution 1701 regarding the ceasefire that ended last year’s war with Hizbollah.