UN says smugglers, ‘outside’ militants move to Gaza

February 27th, 2008 - 12:31 pm ICT by admin  

New York, Feb 27 (DPA) UN officials said there is a “disconnect” between the Middle East peace process and realities on the ground, particularly in Gaza Strip, where smuggling continues and “outside militant groups” had moved into the territory. UN special envoy for Middle East peace process Robert Serry and John Holmes, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, appeared before the UN Security Council Tuesday to discuss the situation in Gaza.

Since the Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, organised last autumn by the White House, neither Israel nor the Palestinians have abided by their agreement to restart the first phase of the so-called quartet’s road map, Serry said.

Israel failed to freeze all settlement activities in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Palestinian-held territories, Serry said. Israel also failed to re-open Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem and continued construction of the barrier separating it from Palestinians.

Hamas has not acted sufficiently in its determination to end rocket attacks against Israel by militant groups, Serry said. The UN said more than 4,300 rockets had been fired into Sderot in southern Israel since 2004.

“Reports of smuggling continue to be of concern, as are reports of outside militant groups now gaining a foothold in Gaza,” Serry said. “We continue to call on Hamas to live up to the responsibilities it has taken on itself, and to choose the olive branch over the gun.”

Serry declined to identify the groups of militants.

News reports have said possible armed groups had entered Gaza when Hamas blew off a piece of the wall between Gaza and Egypt at Rafah last month, allowing Palestinians to cross into Egypt to purchase food supplies and other essential daily needs.

Serry also criticised Israeli measures against Gaza, which, he said, amount to collective punishment of the Gazan population and are “unacceptable”.

Serry told the council that the conflict in the past month killed 45 Palestinians and injured 139 others while one Israeli was killed and 27 injured during the same period. As usual according to the monthly UN reports on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestinians suffered the heaviest casualties.

Holmes said the deteriorating situation on the ground in Gaza and its disconnect with the political process may discourage donors to contribute to the economic development of Palestinian territories. Donors pledged in January $7.7 billion to assist the Palestinians, but only a successful peace process can bring in the money.

“We desperately need those talks to succeed this year,” Holmes said. “The alternative comforts only the extremists.”

Both Serry and Holmes decried the continued Israeli closure of crossing points with Gaza, which has prevented badly needed goods to reach the Palestinians for months already.

Serry urged Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt to develop a new strategy aimed at ending the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Gaza Strip.

The UN has been urging the Middle East diplomatic quartet - the UN, the European Union, the US and Russia - to actively pursue a “positive strategy” to end rocket firing and suicide attacks against Israel and meet Gazans’ humanitarian needs, Serry said.

“Egypt’s efforts along the border and diplomatically to find durable solutions to this crisis are to be commended,” Serry said. “The quartet has also stated publicly its strong support for the proposal of the Palestinian Authority to resume operations at the crossings.”

Serry said the inhabitants in Gaza, West Bank and southern Israel have “little confidence” that the political process was moving in the direction of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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