'Lebanon arms smuggling must end'

Livni expresses concerns to UN chief; Fayad at interfaith conference: J'lem holy to Islam, Christianity.

fayad 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
fayad 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The continued weapons smuggling from Syria into Lebanon is a flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and the countries involved must be held responsible, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Wednesday. According to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry, Livni told the UN chief that the arms smuggling endangers the entire region, and its continuation contradicts Syrian commitments made to the UN regarding a cessation of such activity. Livni also spoke with Ban about the situation in the Gaza Strip, saying that the deteriorating humanitarian conditions there was the fault of Hamas. "If one is looking to place responsibility for the situation in Gaza, the address is Hamas," she said. "Hamas is responsible for what goes on in the Gaza Strip." "Terrorism emanating from Gaza continues," she emphasized. "And no action should be taken that gives even the semblance of legitimacy to the regime or actions of Hamas." Livni spoke with Ban on the sidelines of a UN-organized three-day interfaith peace conference which began on Tuesday. While the conference aimed to be apolitical, political remarks were occasionally expressed. During the proceedings, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad said that Jerusalem was holy to two religions - Islam and Christianity. Fayad failed to mention the importance of Israel's capital to the Jewish people, Israel Radio reported. "Jerusalem is home to the third most holy place to Islam, the place where Muhammad rose to the heavens, and the place where Jesus, the Christian, was resurrected," the Palestinian leader proclaimed. He added that Jerusalem was occupied in June 1967 and called to locate a future Palestinian state capital there. President Shimon Peres and Livni had addressed the forum earlier. Peres broke with precedent and addressed the Saudi king directly from the podium at the UN General Assembly hall, thanking King Abdullah for presenting his peace initiative and opening the door for potential contacts. The two leaders did not speak privately, nor did they interact at a dinner reception, but took full advantage of the forum offered by this week's interfaith peace conference - organized by the UN at the behest of the Saudis - to engage in the closest any Israeli and Saudi leaders have come to a conversation. Abdullah opened the summit Wednesday saying he wanted to "continue what we have started, extending our hand to all who seek peace." Peres responded with effusive praise, deviating from his prepared remarks to praise the monarch by name. "I wish that your voice could become the prevailing voice," Peres said, looking directly at the Saudi seat in the domed hall, where they were joined by Palestinian leaders as well as Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, Jordan's King Abdullah II and dozens of other heads of state. At a news conference after the speech, Peres described a "new air" between Israeli and Arab leaders, particularly the Saudis, and said he perceived "a readiness" to reach peace. "Today, we have heard a totally different voice," Peres said, saying he felt the Arab leaders had voiced a departure from "the three nays: no recognition, no negotiations, no peace with Israel." "I think today you saw that I approached the king directly and openly," he told reporters. "I have reasons to believe that it didn't embarrass him, to say the least - I expect the king would like us to react positively to his call for Muslims, Arabs, and Jews to live peacefully together, and he got that reaction." The Saudi proposal offers normalization of Arab states' relations with Israel in exchange for withdrawal to pre-1967 borders and a "just resolution" to the question of Palestinian refugees. The Arab League amended the proposal to allow for the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. Peres acknowledged that difference, but he brushed it aside, saying the important thing was the "common ground" that had been found with Arabs who previously refused to acknowledge the Jewish state, rather than specific negotiating points. "I would not start negotiations right now in New York," he said. He was joined by Livni, who attended the high-level session in her capacity as foreign minister and vice prime minister. Livni said she was committed to seeing the Annapolis process through, and that she and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas "spoke the same language." Still, she warned that peace could only succeed if the Palestinians showed they were willing to control Hamas and other extremist factions. "Hamas is not willing to live in peace with Israel," she said. "Hamas is not willing to accept... the right of Israel to exist." A viable two-state solution would render the question of refugee return moot by establishing a homeland for Palestinians, she said. Both Livni and Peres deflected questions about a division of Jerusalem, citing commitments to keep details of negotiating points secret until a comprehensive agreement had been reached. "I think we should not answer this question in a hurry," Peres said. "We would like to see a united, shared Jerusalem, but we would also like to share a united peace. I don't think now is the time to raise the issue." The pair were slated to meet with outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the two-day session, but a spokeswoman said there were no scheduled bilateral talks with Arab delegations on the sidelines, despite ongoing efforts to set meetings. Debate in the UN session, billed as part of a "culture of peace" discussion, quickly left the stated topic of interfaith relations and focused on peace between Israel and the Arab world. "It is impossible to talk about interfaith harmony, especially between East and West, without also discussing conflict resolution in the Middle East," said Jordan's King Abdullah. He spoke about focusing on dialogue to establish regional peace based on "shared values," including respect for human rights and the rule of law. "Dialogue among nations is not a luxury - it is a necessity," he said. "It is a duty we must all fulfill if we are to end global tensions." Only Suleiman, speaking after Peres, broke the feel-good mood. The Lebanese delegation left the room during the Israeli presentation, and Suleiman did not look in Peres's direction as he demanded "redress" of "historic wrongs" committed against the Palestinians. "How could any dialogue progress where the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories persists?" Suleiman asked, citing UN resolutions against Israel. Others, including Finnish President Tarja Halonen, warned neighboring countries that they must respect a solution negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians. Peres, in his remarks, cited not just progress in negotiations with the Palestinians but the possibility of reaching peace with Syria. Invoking the memory of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Peres warned that extremists on all sides must not be allowed to derail the possibility of peace.