Europe unites at UN against West Bank annexation

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In this file photo Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, speaks during an interview following the INSS conference, on January 30, 2018 in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. (AFP)
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A Palestinian muezzin reads the Holy Qur’an in an almost empty mosque in Gaza City during the first Friday prayers of the holy month. (AFP)
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Updated 25 April 2020

Europe unites at UN against West Bank annexation

  • The UK is particularly concerned that demolitions have continued, including of temporary health centers, which weaken the capacity of Palestinians to respond to COVID-19

LONDON: The UK and the EU joined the UN in speaking out against Israeli annexation of the occupied West Bank on Thursday.
As part of a video briefing of the UN Security Council, UN Special Middle East Envoy Nickolay Mladenov warned against any such move, saying: “Annexation of parts of the West Bank would constitute a serious violation of international law, deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution, close the door to a renewal of negotiations, and threaten efforts to advance regional peace.”
The intervention comes after the striking of a coalition government agreement on Monday between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of Likud, and Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White bloc, bringing to an end months of political stalemate featuring three elections in just 12 months.
Netanyahu, in a bid to win the support of pro-settlement voters, had placed annexation of the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank squarely on the policy table as part of his manifesto for election.
The agreement with Gantz has now solidified that position, with July 1 slated as the date legislation proposing annexations will advance.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said the White House welcomed the coalition agreement, adding that annexing parts of the West Bank is “ultimately Israel’s decision to make.”
Representatives from the UK, France, Germany and Brussels all set out their opposition to any such move.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, wrote to UN Security Council ahead of the meeting, saying: “The European Union’s position on the status of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 remains unchanged … The EU does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied West Bank.”
James Roscoe, acting UK deputy permanent representative to the UN, spoke about the dangers of the Israeli government continuing on the path toward further annexation, especially amid a global health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“During this fragile period, we call on both parties to avoid any provocative action, which might undermine the cooperation that is so critical. This includes incitement, settlement activity, demolitions and settler violence,” Roscoe told the council.

We are deeply concerned by reports that the new Israeli government coalition has reached an agreement which paves the way for annexation of parts of the West Bank.

James Roscoe, Acting UK deputy permanent representative to UN

“The UK is particularly concerned that demolitions have continued, including of temporary health centers, which weaken the capacity of Palestinians to respond to COVID-19. Under international humanitarian law, an occupying power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining public health and hygiene in the occupied territory to the fullest extent of the means available to it,” he said.
“We are deeply concerned by reports that the new Israeli government coalition has reached an agreement which paves the way for annexation of parts of the West Bank,” he added.
“The UK position is clear: Any unilateral moves towards annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel would be damaging to efforts to restart peace negotiations and would be contrary to international law.”
France’s Ambassador to the UN Nicolas de Rivière warned the UN that annexation “would not pass unchallenged and shall not be overlooked in our relationship with Israel.”
No fewer than 220 senior members of Israel’s security services signed a full-page advert published in various Israeli newspapers in April, warning the country’s MPs of the dangers of unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank.
They said such a move would throw Israel’s peace treaties with neighbors Egypt and Jordan into jeopardy.
On Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said: “No one should delude themselves that they can take advantage of the fact that the world is busy with the coronavirus crisis to violate our rights. We will not allow anyone to violate our rights.”


US calls for credible probe into ‘overwhelming’ Beirut blast

Updated 15 August 2020

US calls for credible probe into ‘overwhelming’ Beirut blast

  • The explosion has pitched Lebanon into a new political vacuum since the resignation of the government
  • Lebanon’s most senior Christian cleric said the Lebanese people and the international community had run out of patience with ruling politicians

BEIRUT: The United States called on Saturday for a transparent and credible investigation into the massive port blast in Beirut that killed 172 people and said Lebanon could never go back to the days “in which anything goes” at its ports and borders.
The Aug. 4 blast, which the authorities say was caused by more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been unsafely stored at the port for years, injured 6,000 people, damaged swathes of the city and left 300,000 homeless.
Some 30 people remain missing.
“Seeing it on television is one thing, seeing it up close is another. It’s really overwhelming,” David Hale, US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said after visiting the port.
“We can never go back to an era in which anything goes at the port or the borders of Lebanon that had to contribute to this situation,” Hale said. “Every sovereign state controls its ports and its borders thoroughly and I imagine all Lebanese would like to return to that era.”
He added that FBI agents would be arriving this weekend, at the invitation of Lebanon, to help find out what exactly happened and what led to the explosion.
The blast has fueled anger at ruling politicians who were already facing heavy criticism over a financial meltdown that has sunk the currency, left savers unable to withdraw their money, and fueled poverty and unemployment since October.
President Michel Aoun has said a probe will look into whether the cause of the blast was negligence, an accident or “external interference.”
The heavily armed Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, said on Friday it would wait for results of the official Lebanese investigation into the blast.
But if it turns out to be an act of sabotage by Israel then it would “pay an equal price”, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address. Israel has denied any role in the explosion.
Nasrallah also said his group was against an international investigation because its first purpose would be to “distance Israel from any responsibility for this explosion, if it had responsibility.” He said the participation of the FBI in an investigation would serve the same purpose.
The explosion has pitched Lebanon into a new political vacuum since the resignation of the government, which formed in January with backing of Hezbollah and its allies including Aoun.
Lebanon’s most senior Christian cleric said the Lebanese people and the international community had run out of patience with ruling politicians.
In his strongest intervention yet since the blast, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai also said the church reserved the right to veto any proposals that further jeopardize Lebanon.
His comments in a sermon were reported by Lebanese broadcaster LBC.
The Maronite church exercises political sway in a country where the head of state must be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.
Iran backs Hezbollah and in a visit to Beirut on Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said international efforts should help Lebanon rather than “impose anything on it.”
Western visitors including French President Emmanuel Macron and the US State Department’s Hale have called for Lebanon to implement reforms including anti-corruption measures that the country’s leaders have avoided for years.