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UN officials underscore concerns about Middle East after day of deadly clashes

16 May 2011 – United Nations officials warned today that further deaths and instability will occur unless a lasting solution is found to the Middle East conflict, a day after 12 people were reportedly killed following protests in Lebanon, the occupied Golan Heights and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The protests around the region took place as many Palestinians marked what they refer to as Nakba or “catastrophe” – the anniversary of Israeli independence in 1948.

Filippo Grandi, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), issued a statement in which he urged all sides to show restraint and ensure that civilians are not killed or injured.

Mr. Grandi’s statement echoed the remarks yesterday of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos and Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, the Force Commander of the UN peacekeeping operation in Lebanon (UNIFIL), who all expressed deep concern about the situation in the region.

“These sad events demonstrate once more the vulnerability of the Palestine refugees we serve,” Mr. Grandi said.

“They underline the need for a just and durable solution, based on UN resolutions, to resolve the plight of those who have endured statelessness, exile and dispossession for 63 years.”

Mr. Grandi noted that the Middle East and North Africa, where pro-democracy movements have taken to the streets to demand change from their governments, was undergoing “a time of profound and far-reaching change.”

He urged the parties to tackle what Mr. Ban has called the unsustainable status quo in the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the fate of the Palestinian refugees.

“I fear that failure to do so will only lead to more instability and further loss of life,” he said.

Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, issued his own statement in which he urged the international community to take action to compel Israel to end its occupation and confiscation of Palestinian land.

“This past week, seven Palestinian families in the West Bank village of al-Walaja received demolition orders,” he said. “This is a reminder that the Nakba continues. Israel’s pursuit of what it calls ‘facts on the ground’ consistently forces Palestinians to abandon their homes, lands and lives, creating a reality better understood as virtual annexation.”

Mr. Falk described this year as a particularly notable anniversary of Nakba, because “it coincides with the release of information confirming that Israel secretly revoked as many as 140,000 residency permits of Palestinians between 1967 and 1994.

“This is not only another violation of Israel’s obligations as the occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is also a glaring example of several sinister schemes that Israel has employed over the years to rid historic Palestine of its original inhabitants, in order to make space for Israeli citizens.”

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