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Lebanese Premier Addresses Meeting on Palestine Day


Accompanied by great applause, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora entered the conference hall at UN-ESCWA to begin the ceremony held by the Commission to observe the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (29 November). A host of prominent political, diplomatic and media figures, as well as heads of UN agencies and UN staff, were in attendance to listen to the statements delivered by PM Siniora, UN-ESCWA Executive Secretary Mervat Tallawy, the representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon, Mr. Abbas Zeki, and the former head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Mr. Peter Hansen. The Chief of the UN-ESCWA Centre for Women (ECW) Ms. Suheir Azzouni presented the ceremony and delivered excerpts from the works of contemporary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Two written statements by HE King Hamad bin Issa Al Thani of Bahrain and Palestinian Mr. Mahmoud Abbas were also disseminated during the ceremony.

In her speech, Tallawy said, “Annual data reflect deterioration in the situation of the Palestinian people as compared to that of last year. An unprecedented slide was seen in 2006 in the living conditions of the Palestinian people following the halt of financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, prompting a major social and economic crisis that led the World Bank to describe it as the worst year in the history of the Palestinian economy. This had a direct humanitarian impact on the Palestinian people, of which 67% now live under the poverty level.”

Tallawy continued, “As if poverty and hunger were not enough, the suffering of the Palestinian people has been intensified due to the continued killing and destruction of public property during Israeli military operations following the halt of serious efforts to reach a just and lasting political resolution to the conflict.”

The statement of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan was delivered by Tallawy, in which he said, “Military operations in the Gaza Strip have resulted in a dramatic rise in civilian casualties and in the destruction of property and infrastructure. I have repeatedly urged Israel to exercise maximum restraint, and to refrain from further escalating an already grim situation. I have also stressed, and will continue to stress, that Israel has a responsibility to protect Palestinian civilians under international law.
Israelis, too, live in insecurity. They rightly demand that the Palestinian Authority take credible action to prevent attacks against them and their territory. The constant rocket attacks by Palestinian militants against Israeli civilian targets are unacceptable and should be stopped at once.”
Annan pointed out, “The Palestinian Authority itself faces a debilitating political and financial crisis. Palestinian institutions, hospitals and schools are in an alarmingly precarious state, exacerbating the acute suffering already being endured by the Palestinian people. Indeed, the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza demands immediate attention, and I hope the donor community will continue to be generous.

The current impasse and bloodshed are all the more tragic because we know that clear majorities of both Palestinians and Israelis want a negotiated, two-state solution -- one that would end the occupation that began in 1967, establish an independent State of Palestine, and ensure security for Israel. I also believe that the leaders of each side -- President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert -- are genuinely committed to lifting their peoples out of decades of pain and uncertainty.

The parties themselves continue to bear the primary responsibility for finding their way out of their predicament, by engaging in a viable political process that can lead to the peace their peoples both yearn for. No one can make peace for them, impose peace on them, or want peace more than they do. But the international community has also played an important part in this conflict from its very beginnings, and cannot escape its own responsibility to contribute to a solution.”

In his speech, PM Siniora said, “The big picture, both in Palestine and its surrounding areas, is cause for a lot of worry and pessimism. In the last eight months following the abduction of an Israeli soldier in Gaza and two at the Lebanese border, the Israeli military machine has killed close to 2000 people in Gaza and Lebanon, half of them children, women and elderly. It has displaced hundreds of thousands, destroyed tens of thousands of homes and infrastructure. It threatens to crumble the economic infrastructure, wipe away any hope in the present and the future, exacerbate social, political and economic problems, and complicate solutions.”
Siniora added, “In the interests of safeguarding people, buildings and stability; easing the suffering of the Palestinian people and other Arab peoples; and achieving justice and peace, there must be recourse to a comprehensive solution by way of an international forum attended by all the parties. The forum must work to implement related international resolutions and that means going back to the Arab peace initiative submitted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the Beirut summit in 2002.”

Zeki noted in his speech that, “The daily practices of the Israeli occupation show beyond a shadow of a doubt that, despite its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, Israeli occupation policy is still seeking to impose a policy of submission and to enforce a unilateral plan for a so-called state with temporary borders and an agenda that cancels or ignores all negotiations for a final solution such as: Jerusalem, the refugees, the settlements, and the borders. The Palestinian people consider these issues to be national constants that will not allow for a just and comprehensive peace if they are not resolved conclusively on the basis of international resolutions and the Arab peace initiative.
For his part, Hansen was not surprised to expect the GDP in the occupied Palestinian territory to decline more than it did in 2001-2002, since the crisis has deepened whilst the donors have withdrawn. “We are now facing a much more difficult situation and more difficult circumstances than we ever did and I really don’t want to speculate how much worse the situation will be before it ever gets better,” he said. “Apart from all these material things like food and electricity shortages and poverty, there is a physical and psychological impact. Health and nutrition has gone down by many measures. Think of the psychological impact and the things that people are living through. I remember taking a number of donor delegations to trauma treatment centers for children. The children were telling about having heir families killed right in front of them. The way that these young girls were telling about what they had gone through, there was not a dry eye when the delegation left the building. There really is no substitute for really seeing this. In the end, can anyone be surprised that this all leads to radicalization and true hatred?”

The United Nations General Assembly had called in 1977 to consider 29 November of every year an international of solidarity with the Palestinian people. On 3 December 2001, the General Assembly notified Member States of the measures that have been taken to commemorate that day, asking them to disseminate that notification as widely as possible.