UN: Surge of Mideast violence means talks critical

AP News
Posted: Mar 18, 2014 1:48 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. political chief said a surge of Israeli-Palestinian violence last week brought the Middle East to the brink of a new crisis and underscored the importance of forging ahead with flagging U.S.-led peace talks.

Jeffrey Feltman, briefing the Security Council on Tuesday, also called attention to the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, appealing to donors to help raise $250,000 a month needed to resolve an acute shortage of medical supplies.

Feltman's comments came a day after President Barack Obama met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House in an effort to help break the logjam to the peace talks. With the negotiations due to end April 29, there has been a growing sense of pessimism in both sides and few signs of a breakthrough.

Last week saw the heaviest fighting between the two sides since 2012. Militants fired some 70 rockets into Israel while Israel carried out a series of airstrikes in Gaza.

"Last week, with the situation in Gaza, we came very close to the brink of another crisis in an already volatile region," Feltman said. "We should take this as yet another reminder of the need to work together to restore prospects for durable regional peace."

Compounding tensions, Israeli guards last week killed a Jordanian judge at a border crossing, trigging demonstrations in Jordan and calls on the kingdom to end 1994 peace agreement with Israel. Earlier this month, Israel also announced the capture of a ship it says carried advanced rockets from Iran bound for Gaza, and accused the international community of ignoring Iranian support for militant groups.

Feltman said that "if the allegations of illegal shipments from Iran are true, this also appears to be a violation" of Security Council sanctions.

Feltman also described an "unsustainable situation in the Gaza Strip," which has been subjected to severe trade and movement restrictions by Israel and Egypt since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control in 2007.

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"The United Nations finds it increasingly difficult to provide assistance to the population of Gaza while restrictions on access, including for U.N. operations, persist and have even increased," Feltman said.

He said 15 previously commenced U.N. projects worth $14 million are stalled and another 42 projects worth $96 million are awaiting Israel approval.

Feltman said 38.5 percent of Gaza's population is unemployed and shortages of drugs and other medical supplies are forcing many patients to seek treatment outside the Palestinian territory.

Security Council President Sylvie Lucas, the ambassador of Luxembourg, later said council members reiterated the need to push for a "final status" agreement on the Israel-Palestinian question. Council members also raised concerns about the rocket fire into Israel and the continued Israeli settlement activity in lands claimed by the Palestinians the demolition of Palestinian homes.