New UN envoy critical of Israel

In report to UNSC, Mar Serry says Israeli "collective punishment unacceptable;" praises PA progress.

checkpoint 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
checkpoint 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
New UN special envoy Robert Serry, in a maiden report highly critical of Israel to the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, called for a "different and more positive strategy for Gaza" on Tuesday. Serry said a different Gaza strategy is a "humanitarian, security and strategic imperative for Israel, Egypt and the PA." Calling the situation in Gaza "unacceptable and also unsustainable in humanitarian, human rights, security and political terms," the UN diplomat from the Netherlands said "a different and more positive strategy for Gaza is required." "Despite statements of intent, Hamas has not acted with sufficient determination to bring about an end to rocket attacks by militant groups," Serry said. "Hamas itself also carries out periodic rocket firing and regular mortar fire, to say nothing of the recent suicide bombing." Serry's comments were made a day before Hamas took responsibility for the massive barrage of Kassam rockets on civilian targets in Sderot on Wednesday. "Reports of smuggling continue to be of concern, as are reports of outside militant groups now gaining a foothold in Gaza," Serry said. "We continue to call on Hamas to live up to the responsibilities it has taken on itself, and to choose the olive branch over the gun." But, Serry said, "Israeli measures amounting to collective punishment are not acceptable. We call on Israel to meet its obligations toward the civilian population of Gaza under international law." The Foreign Ministry had no comment on Serry's report, with one official saying only that Israel was "studying" Serry's comments. In the report, Serry took Israel to task for failure to live up to its obligations under the road map, while saying nothing of Palestinian obligations under that document. "Phase One of the road map, to which the parties recommitted at Annapolis, requires the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including 'natural growth‚' and to remove all outposts erected since March 2001," Serry said. "However, construction continues in settlements throughout the West Bank, including in east Jerusalem; new housing tenders continue to be issued by the Israeli government; and no outposts have been removed." Serry scored Israel for recently issuing an order to continue the closure of Palestinian institutions in east Jerusalem, despite what he said were road map obligations to reopen Palestinian institutions there. According to the road map, Israel will "reopen the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and other closed Palestinian institutions in east Jerusalem based on a commitment that these institutions operate strictly in accordance with prior agreements between the parties." By contrast, Serry praised the Palestinian Authority. "PA Prime Minister [Salaam] Fayad and his government continue to promote good governance and revive the economy," he said. "Steps this month included addressing electricity subsidies, finalization of measures to ensure financial transparency and efforts to ensure PA ministries and agencies develop coordinated and standardized project proposals." Serry said "efforts to improve PA security performance continue," and noted that "a Palestinian military court sentenced two individuals to 15 years in prison for killing two Israelis near Hebron in December." Serry said the UN "unreservedly condemns indiscriminate rocket and mortar firing towards civilian population centers and crossing points and suicide attacks against civilians, and calls for their immediate cessation." At the same time, he said that "while we are cognizant of Israel's security concerns, Israel is obliged not to take disproportionate measures or to endanger civilians. The UN's principled opposition to extra-judicial killings is compounded by the frequency with which such operations are carried out in densely populated civilian areas."