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Fragile advances in Middle East need to turn into real progress, UN official says

27 June 2008 – The recent “fragile but real” steps forward in the Middle East peace process will not turn into real progress unless Israeli and Palestinian negotiators can find common ground on the core issues, a senior United Nations political official told the Security Council today.

Briefing the 15-member panel on the latest developments in the region, Lisa Buttenheim, Director of the UN Department of Political Affairs' Asia-Pacific Division, said it was clear that progress has been made on several fronts compared with a year ago.

Ms. Buttenheim cited the recent ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip and the continued commitment of all sides to the goal of the so-called Annapolis peace process, which aims to achieve an agreement by the end of this year.

But she said progress on other fronts, such as the dire humanitarian conditions inside Gaza and the failure to release the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and Palestinian prisoners, has not been sufficient.

“The bilateral negotiations need to find common ground on the core issues,” she said. “Measures to support the Palestinian Authority and economy in the West Bank must be intensified, including by donors fulfilling pledges for budgetary support and by Israel easing closure [of the border crossings].

“Road map obligations need to be acted upon, particularly an Israeli settlement freeze. Palestinian efforts on security performance and reform should continue and be supported. The Gaza calm needs to be respected by all concerned, and to be supported with improved socio-economic conditions and efforts to solve outstanding issues so that there can be an orderly reopening of crossings under the Palestinian Authority. Internal dialogue to this and broader ends should be fostered.”

Ms. Buttenheim said the daily living conditions in Gaza remain extremely grave and need urgent attention. Continuing fuel restrictions are leading reduced water supply, the use of vegetable oil to run vehicles, the accumulation of 600 tons of rubbish a day on the streets and the dumping of 77 million litres of raw or partially treated sewage into the Mediterranean Sea every day.

New procedures applied to the movement of UN agencies operating in the West Bank, including searches of UN property, the refusal to accept UN identification and the requirement that UN Palestinian staff walk across crossings, “are also causing increased operational concerns to our staff on the ground.”

Ms. Buttenheim also noted that the UN's Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, was in Ankara yesterday and will visit Damascus tomorrow to underline UN support and encouragement for the continuing indirect talks between Israel and Syria under Turkish mediation.

Turning to the issue of Lebanon, she said she hoped that agreement on the composition of the Lebanese cabinet in the national unity government will be reached soon and that it will help to foster a climate of lasting reconciliation.

She added that the need to ensure the recent Doha agreement is fully implemented has been underscored by disturbing security incidents between Government and opposition supporters earlier this week and a series of incidents in and around Palestinian refugee camps.

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