Israel miffed at UN envoy

Simmering Israeli frustration with UN special envoy Alvaro de Soto boiled over when a formal protest was sent to him over the weekend for allegedly refusing to identify himself to security guards at the Erez crossing last month. De Soto, the UN special coordinator (UNSCO), has in recent weeks been critical of Israel's decision to suspend the transfer of revenue payments to the Palestinian Authority, and has warned of an imminent humanitarian crisis inside the Gaza Strip. According to officials, de Soto arrived at the Erez crossing on February 22 with other representatives from his office. When his vehicle arrived at a roadblock before Erez, a UN security guard got out of the car and presented the passports of those inside the vehicle to the Israeli guard. According to the Israeli officials, when the passengers were requested to exit the car to identify themselves they said that they preferred to remain in the vehicle. An IDF officer then went toward the car, but was allegedly told by the UN security guard that de Soto was not interested in speaking with him. According to the officials, the unwillingness of the UN officials to open the car window and identify themselves became a security concern. The officials said that at the same time this exchange was taking place, "blood samples and bird parts were transported from Gaza into Israel through the crossing to examine the spread of bird flu to the Gaza region." According to the officials, this transfer needed to be carried out "quickly in order to preserve the freshness of the samples," but as a result of de Soto's vehicle blocking the crossing, and his unwillingness to identify himself, "the samples' passage was delayed." Senior officials said that while de Soto was warning of a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, he was being punctilious about his honor, disregarding Israeli law and the requests of officers at the scene, and in the process holding up the passage of blood samples needed to prevent a possible humanitarian crisis. An UNSCO spokesman said that de Soto's office had not received a letter of protest, but that UNSCO officials always observe agreed-upon crossing procedures at Erez. He said that with the exception of de Soto, all the other officials disembarked from the car to be identified, and that - according to accepted procedures - de Soto did not need to leave his vehicle. Western diplomatic officials said that under agreements with Israel, senior diplomats do not need to leave their vehicles when crossing Erez, and that the norm was for the driver to present the diplomat's passport. The UN, they said, was not informed of any change in these procedures. One UN official said de Soto had been in his job since the summer, and that he could not think of any reason why Israeli officials would want to make a major issue over this incident.