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PM Netanyahu, UN’s Ban discuss peace process, Ghajar withdrawal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at U.N. headquarters November 8, 2010 in New York City. Israeli media reported that Netanyahu will announce the Israeli withdrawal from Ghajar, a village straddling the Lebanese-Israeli border. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slams UNESCO decision to classify ancient Jewish holy site as mosque, saying ‘historical facts should not be distorted in the name of politics.’

November 09, 2010 (KATAKAMI / HAARETZ) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held talks late Monday on the stalled Middle East peace talks and the planned Israeli withdrawal from a site on the Lebanese border.

The two issued a readout of their meeting at UN headquarters in New York, according to which the “secretary general and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed the ongoing efforts to move the Middle East peace process forward.”

“The secretary general emphasized that it was vital to break the current diplomatic stalemate, resume negotiations and produce results,” the statement said.

Peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have been stalled since September, when an Israeli moratorium on settlement activity ended. The Palestinians want the freeze extended to continue talks, and Washington has unsuccessfully tried to convince Netanyahu to do so. US President Barack Obama oversaw the relaunching of the direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in early September, only to see them falter once the settlement freeze expired on the 26th of the month.

Ban said he expressed concern at the resumption of the Israeli settlement activities and recent announcements of further settlement construction in East Jerusalem.

The two leaders also discussed the “current proposals on the issue of Ghajar,” a reference to Israel’s plan to end its occupation of the village with 2,200 inhabitants on the Lebanon-Israel border.

Haaretz had reported that Netanyahu planned to announce a withdrawal from Ghajar and the return of control of the village to Lebanon. The planned withdrawal would comply with UN Security Council resolution 1701, which ordered a ceasefire in the fighting between Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces in 2006.

The two leaders also reportedly “reviewed the regional situation, including Iran,” in addition to Ban’s urging that Israel “ease the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza.”

Netanyahu also referred to a recent controversial ruling by the UN’s cultural agency, according to which West Bank heritage sites holy to both Jews and Muslims, such as Rachel’s Tomb, would be considered Palestinian.

The ancient tomb, which lies between Jerusalem and the nearby Palestinian-controlled city of Bethlehem, is traditionally regarded as the burial place of a biblical matriarch and is holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Speaking during his meeting with the UN chief, the PM said that the “the profound link between the Jewish people and the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb had existed for close to 4,000 years.”

“Over a billion people know of this bond and it is documented in the Bible,” Netanyahu said, adding that “historical facts should not be distorted in the name of politics. That would only injure the UN’s stature and the way serious people around the world regard it.”

Last week, Israel said it would reduce cooperation with the United Nations’ cultural watchdog following the classification of Rachel’s Tomb as a mosque.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Israel would not cooperate with UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – in administering five protected sites in Palestinian territory as a dispute that has escalated in recent weeks came to a head.

Speaking with journalists in Jerusalem, Ayalon blamed the Palestinians for influencing the UN to side against Israel.

“This is another attempt at de-legitimization by the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

UN calls for urgent action over mass DR Congo rape

Mr Ban said the UN mission was working in an “exceptionally difficult environment”

August 26, 2010

(KATAKAMI / BBC)  — The UN has said everything possible must be done to prevent atrocities like the recent rape of more than 150 women and children in the DR Congo.

In an emergency session of the Security Council, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Congolese authorities had to fully investigate what had happened.

The Council also said peacekeepers in the area should have done more to protect local people from rebels.

The peacekeepers say they were not told about the attacks until 10 days later.

The rapes happened after rebels occupied Luvungi town and surrounding villages, within miles of a UN peacekeeping base.

Some reports say nearly 200 women and some baby boys were attacked by the rebels over a four-day period, before they left. The UN has confirmed 154 cases.

The Security Council said it was “of utmost importance that the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to pursue its efforts to fight impunity”.

Mr Ban, who has despatched an envoy to DR Congo, urged the authorities to “investigate this incident and bring the perpetrators to justice”.

He called on officials to renew their efforts to bring peace and stability to the conflict-ridden eastern Congo and urged armed groups to give up their weapons.

But Mr Ban also said the UN had to do more to “protect civilians from such wanton violations of international human rights and humanitarian law”.

He said the UN mission in DR Congo (Monusco) “does what it can within its mandate, working with limited resources in an exceptionally difficult environment”.

“But, at such times, we should always ask if we could have done more,” he added.

Rebel denial

UN peacekeepers in the area say they were given no information about rebel attacks until 10 days after the incident. They say local people may have been afraid of rebel reprisal or ashamed by the rapes.

Roger Meese, the top UN envoy in the country, said he had not been at the base but knew that troops would have intervened had they known.

FDLR rebels on a UN truck in eastern DR Congo as they are repatriated (December 2005)
Attacks and rapes in DR Congo are blamed on rebel gangs roaming the region

“Our first priority is very clearly the protection of civilians so if you have an accurate or a credible report of mass rapes going on, certainly the commander in place and the Monusco forces would have tried to take action to stop whatever was going on, but we didn’t have that information,” he told reporters.

The president of the Security Council, Vitaly Churkin, said the UN would conduct its own investigation into what had gone wrong.

“There was general feeling that things did not work the way they should have worked, and it is the intention of the Council to look into it very thoroughly,” he said.

“Everything is to be done in order to prevent such occurrences in the future.”

The attacks have been blamed on rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

But in a statement from Paris, the group’s executive secretary Callixte Mbarushimana said it was “in no way involved in these odious actions and takes umbrage at the baseless accusations launched against them by the secretary general of the United Nations”, the AFP news agency reported.

Eastern DR Congo is still plagued by army and militia violence despite the end of the country’s five-year war in 2003.

UN peacekeeping troops have been backing efforts to defeat the FDLR, whose leaders are linked to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and who are operating in eastern DR Congo.

U.N. Investigator Calls for Halt to CIA Drone Killings




June 3, 2010

A United Nations investigator called Wednesday for a halt to CIA-directed drone strikes on suspected Islamic militants, warning that killings ordered far from the battlefield could lead to a “Playstation” mentality.

Philip Alston, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said missile strikes could be justified only when it was impossible to capture insurgents alive instead and only if they were carried out by regular U.S. armed forces operating with proper oversight and respect for the rules of war.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s use of unmanned Predator or Reaper drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan against al Qaeda and Taliban suspects had led to the death of “many hundreds,” including innocent civilians, he said in a 29-page report.

“Intelligence agencies, which by definition are determined to remain unaccountable except to their own paymasters, have no place in running programs that kill people in other countries,” Alston said.

The world does not know when and where the CIA is authorized to kill, its criteria for choosing targets, whether they are lawful killings, and how it follows up when civilians are illegally killed, said Alston, an independent expert who will present his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council Thursday.

The CIA disputed the investigator’s conclusion.

“Without discussing or confirming any specific action or program, this agency’s operations unfold within a framework of law and close government oversight. The accountability’s real, and it would be wrong for anyone to suggest otherwise,” a CIA spokesman said.The United States is among the Geneva forum’s 47 members.

Under President Barack Obama, the CIA has stepped up its drone strikes in the tribal zone of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, targeting not only high-level al Qaeda and Taliban targets but largely unknown foot soldiers as well.

Following a directive first issued by former President George W. Bush and continued by Obama, the CIA has widened the “target set” for drone strikes in Pakistan, Reuters reported last month.

Al Qaeda’s third-in-command, Sheikh Sa’id al-Masri, is believed to have been killed in May in a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan, U.S. officials said earlier this week.

The United States is believed to control the fleet of drones from CIA headquarters in Virginia, coordinating with civilian pilots near hidden airfields in Afghanistan and Pakistan who fly the drones remotely, according to Alston, an Australian who teaches at New York University School of Law.


“Because operators are based thousands of miles away from the battlefield, and undertake operations entirely through computer screens and remote audio-feed, there is a risk of developing a ‘Playstation’ mentality to killing,” he said, referring to the popular Sony video game console.

Under international law, targeted killings are permitted in armed conflicts when used against fighters or civilians who engage directly in combat-like activities, Alston said. “But they are increasingly being used far from any battle zone.”

Israel stands accused of ordering the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Hamas military commander, in a Dubai hotel room in January. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied a role in the murder.

Alston said Russia was also suspected of conducting targeted killings in Chechnya and beyond the breakaway region as part of its counter-terrorism operations.

The United States is among 40 countries with drone technology, according to Alston. Britain, China, France, India, Iran, Israel, Russia and Turkey are named as having or seeking the capacity to fire missiles from their drones.

But countries should use graduated force and where possible capture suspects rather than kill them, he said.

“Thus, rather than using drone strikes, U.S. forces should, wherever and whenever possible, conduct arrests or use less-than-lethal force to restrain,” he said.

Israel PM Netanyahu welcomes new UN sanctions against Iran

June 10, 2010

JERUSALEM (CHANNEL NEWS ASIA)  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed new sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council against the Jewish state’s arch-foe Iran in a statement released by his office on Thursday.

“The resolution passed today (Wednesday) in the Security Council through (US) President (Barack) Obama’s determined efforts is a positive step,” Netanyahu said.

“The resolution makes clear to Iran that the leading powers of the world are opposed to its nuclear weapons programme,” he added.

“We hope that today’s positive step will be followed by strong action on the part of individual countries, including those targeting Iran’s energy sector.”

12 nations on the Security Council voted Wednesday in favour of a fourth set of sanctions on Iran, with Lebanon abstaining, and Brazil and Turkey voting against, after Tehran defied earlier UN demands to suspend uranium enrichment.

“These resolutions are not worth a dime for the Iranian nation,” hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Iran’s ISNA news agency in Tajikistan, where he is on a two-day visit.

“I gave one of them (the world powers) a message that the resolutions you issue are like a used hanky which should be thrown in the dust bin.”

Israel, which has the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear arsenal, regards Iran as its principal threat after repeated predictions by Ahmadinejad of the Jewish state’s demise.

Israeli leaders have refused to rule out a resort to military action to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability.

Iran insists that its nuclear programme is aimed solely at power generation and medical research and says that the international community should focus its attention on Israel, which, unlike Iran, is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.