Israel: UN official's remarks encourage terrorism

John Holmes sparks anger by describing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as "a cycle of violence."

john holmes 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
john holmes 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel accused UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes on Monday of encouraging terrorism when he used the phrase "a vicious cycle of violence" to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict along the Gaza border. "Such comments create an analogy between terrorists and those who are defending themselves from terror," said Foreign Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovitch in the aftermath of a contentious meeting with Holmes. It was a charge that the UN official flatly denied as he wrapped up a five-day visit to the area that included trips to Gaza and to Sderot. It was his first trip here since taking office in January 2007. Holmes, who in the last days had urged Hamas to stop launching rockets against Israel and listened to the anguish of the wounded victims, said he was puzzled by the Foreign Ministry's statement. "I think it is hard to construe anything from what I said to encourage terrorism," Holmes told reporters at a Jerusalem press conference. But Abramovitch warned that the language of equity could unwittingly encourage terrorist elements to believe that the international community would exert pressure on Israel instead of dealing with the roots of the violence. Abramovitch said Jerusalem expected the UN and democratic states to support Israel in its struggle against terror and the organizations that deny its right to exist. Holmes said that in spite of the Foreign Ministry's statement, he had productive meetings with people in that office as well as the Defense Ministry. He said scheduling problems had kept the foreign minister and the defense minister from meeting with him in person. Holmes, who tried to walk a balanced line between the two sides, said he supported Israel. But that did not stop him from harshly condemning the goods embargo Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip since Hamas's violent overthrow of Fatah in June 2006. He also took issue with the security fence and the West Bank roadblocks. Israel reassured him that the bare minimum of humanitarian aid would be allowed into Gaza, Holmes admitted, but he said this was not enough. "There is a crisis [in Gaza] that has increasingly severe humanitarian consequences," Holmes said. The harm caused the people in Gaza is not justified by the rocket attacks. "It collectively penalizes an entire population," he said. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday blamed Hamas for the fact that economic conditions in Gaza were so bad that some 80 percent of the 1.4 million citizens exist on food subsidies provided by United Nations agencies. But Holmes leveled the blame at Israel, which he said was "largely in control of what happens in Gaza. Israel continues to have the obligation of an occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza and Israel must fulfill those obligations." Overall, he said, "I am deeply concerned that what is happening on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank is not a good basis on which to build a successful peace settlement," Holmes said. There is a disconnect between the reality on the ground and the political negotiations which needs to be urgently bridged, he said.