UN envoys take on mission impossible

Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army fighters stand around a pickup truck with a mounted weapon in the town of Marea in northern Aleppo countryside, Syria on Saturday. (REUTERS)
Updated 11 February 2018
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UN envoys take on mission impossible

UNITED NATIONS, United States: They often go by the description of jack of all trades and have a reputation for being thick-skinned, perseverant, experienced and willing to take on a mission impossible.
The men and women who take on the job of UN special envoy to the world’s trouble spots seem to be drawn to the challenge of confronting horrors in places like Syria, Libya or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The United Nations has about 20 special envoys, some of whom take on short-term missions, others who plod on for decades.
“It’s a tough job and a bit of a dog’s life,” said a diplomat.
“They get upbraided by one side and then the other, they are the focus of any frustration.”
Some missions may not be dangerous, such as reuniting Cyprus, finding a name for Macedonia that will satisfy Greece or resolving decades of disagreement over the status of Western Sahara, but these can be just as intractable.
“They have to show so much humility and patience and know when to jump at an opportunity to create conditions for dialogue,” the diplomat said.
“It’s like being a master chess player and asking others to move the pieces on the board.”
A UN official, who also asked not to be named, said the envoys are “civil servants — with convictions and a healthy ego.”
For most UN envoys, the job is seen as “a big privilege,” he said.

Success for a peace envoy hinges not just on diplomatic acumen, but also on the willingness of the parties involved and, in some instances crucially, on the support of the big powers at the UN Security Council.
In Colombia, these conditions are all met and UN work to support the peace deal with the FARC rebels is often singled out as an example of a peace mission that is working.
Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura, the third UN envoy to take on the Syria file, has been walking a tightrope between Russia and Western countries who are sharply at odds over a peace settlement.
But success for an envoy is not just about ending violence. Containing a crisis or “keeping a lid” can also be considered a diplomatic achievement.
The UN’s top envoys appointed for Libya, Syria or Yemen earn about $12,000 per month, but in exchange they agree to put their personal lives on hold, travel almost constantly and report to UN headquarters on their advances and setbacks.
Candidates to the posts must obtain approval from the five permanent council members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — and the parties themselves.
Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who is stepping down as Yemen envoy at the end of the month, fell out with Houthi rebels, which contributed to the failure of his mediation efforts.
Many envoys have thrown in the towel.
“My dream is to be the last special envoy for Libya,” said Ghassan Salame in an interview with AFP late last year. “I don’t want my role to drag on.”
Some envoys have paid the ultimate price in the job. Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, considered one of the UN’s most gifted emissaries, was killed in a Baghdad attack in 2003.


Israeli air strikes kill three Palestinians in Gaza after rocket fire

Updated 53 min 25 sec ago
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Israeli air strikes kill three Palestinians in Gaza after rocket fire

GAZA: Israeli air strikes in Gaza killed three Palestinians on Monday after a barrage of rocket fire from the enclave, as renewed violence threatened to derail efforts to restore calm.

Israel's military said it had so far struck more than 20 militant sites in response to some 80 launches from the Hamas-run territory, reportedly rockets and mortars.

Missile defences had intercepted a number of the rockets, the military said.

The army said an Israeli bus was hit by fire from the Gaza Strip. Medics reported one person severely wounded.

A picture taken from the Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018 shows missiles being launched toward Israel. (AFP)

Medics also said six people from the southern Israeli city of Sderot were lightly wounded.

Israeli police said a rocket hit a house in Netivot, another southern Israeli town.

Gaza's health ministry said three Palestinians were killed in the Israeli strikes.

Militant group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said two were its members.

A picture taken from the Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018 shows missiles being launched toward Israel. A number of rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel. (AFP)

Hamas meanwhile said it was behind the rocket fire on behalf of all Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, saying it was in revenge for a deadly Israeli military operation late Sunday.

On Sunday, a clash erupted during an Israeli special forces operation in the Gaza Strip that killed seven Palestinian militants, including a local commander for Hamas's armed wing, and an Israeli army officer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a trip to Paris and rushed home as tensions rose, and on Monday convened a meeting of security chiefs.

Israel had stressed its covert operation on Sunday was an intelligence-gathering mission and “not an assassination or abduction,” but Hamas strongly denounced it and vowed revenge.

Israel signalled that Sunday's mission did not go as planned and resulted in the clash, which Palestinian officials said included Israeli air strikes.

In the immediate aftermath of the clash, Israel said it identified 17 launches - likely rockets or mortars - toward its territory from Gaza, with three intercepted by missile defences. No injuries were reported.

Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said the Israeli special forces team had infiltrated near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip in a civilian car.

Al-Qassam agents stopped it and wanted to search it, realised it was an Israeli operation and confronted them, it said in a statement.

An exchange of fire followed in which local Al-Qassam commander Nour Baraka was killed along with another militant, it said.

The car then attempted to flee and Israeli aircraft provided covering fire.

An Israeli helicopter landed near the fence and took away the special forces troops, according to Al-Qassam.

Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus declined to comment on the Al-Qassam account "because of the sensitive nature of the operation".

Israel provided few details on Sunday's operation, saying it was carried out by special forces and resulted in an "exchange of fire".

A funeral was held for the seven Palestinian militants on Monday attended by thousands, including masked Al-Qassam members carrying rifles, some firing into the air.

On the Israeli side of the border, residents said they had stayed close to shelters throughout the night.

“I was sitting in my living room and around 10 pm or 11 pm, I suddenly heard the sound of helicopter gunships firing,” said Gadi Yarkoni, head of a regional council in the area and a resident of Nirim Kibbutz.

“It was right above the village I'm living in. It was very unpleasant.”

The clashes came after months of deadly unrest along the Gaza-Israel border had appeared to be calming.

Recent weeks have seen Israel allow Qatar to provide the Gaza Strip with millions of dollars in aid for salaries as well as fuel to help ease an electricity crisis.

Before the flare-up, Netanyahu had defended his decision to allow Qatar to transfer the cash to Gaza despite criticism from within his own government over the move, saying he wanted to avoid a war if it was not necessary.

Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu's education minister and right-wing rival, compared the cash flow to "protection money" paid to criminals.

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008, and recent months have raised fears of a fourth.

Deadly clashes have accompanied major protests along the Gaza-Israel border that began on March 30.

At least 230 Palestinians have since been killed by Israeli fire, the majority shot during protests and clashes, while others died in tank fire or air strikes.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed in that time.

Egyptian and UN officials have been mediating between Israel and Hamas in an effort to reach a long-term truce deal.