Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Special Coordinator Serry, for your briefing.
Mr. President, last week the world witnessed – and the Security Council appropriately condemned – a heinous terrorist attack in Bulgaria. The target was innocent Israeli tourists on vacation in the Black Sea. Five Israelis and one Bulgarian were murdered and scores more were injured, including citizens of Bulgaria, Italy, Slovakia, and the United States. There is no justification whatsoever for such attacks against innocent people. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families and to the people of Israel, Bulgaria, and all those whose citizens were harmed in this awful event.
Turning to Syria, this Council has failed to respond credibly to the Assad regime's onslaught because of the vetoes of two members of the Council, the most recent last week. As Ambassador Rice said after last Thursday’s vote: “The Security Council has failed utterly in its most important task on its agenda this year.” It is our hope, as she also said then, that the day will come when this Council can assume its proper role at the center of the international response to the conflict in Syria.
We continue to see a grave escalation of the regime’s attacks against its own people that continues to spread instability well beyond Syria’s borders. As we saw with incidents over the weekend, the regime is losing its grip over increasingly large swathes of the country. The Syrian opposition now controls several crossings on the Iraqi and Turkish borders. This is increasing evidence that the Assad regime will not remain in power. And since this Council has failed to shoulder its responsibilities, the United States will continue to work with the Friends of the Syrian People to increase pressure on the regime, support the Syrian opposition, marshal relief for the Syrian people, and help prepare for a Syrian-led, democratic transition.
We are deeply concerned by the July 18-19 incident in UNDOF’s area of operation, as described in DPKO’s letter to the Council last week, in which nearly 500 armed soldiers from the Syrian Arab Armed Forces entered the area of separation. In the past six months, Syria has committed multiple violations of the key provisions of the 1974 agreement that led to the establishment of UNDOF, but the July incident constitutes the gravest breach in the nearly 40-year history of the agreement. We strongly condemn all violations of the Disengagement Agreement. These violations must cease immediately.
The ongoing violence in Syria continues to put pressure on all of Syria’s neighbors to support dramatic increases in the number of refugees. We thank those countries for providing the refugees with safe harbor. UNHCR estimates that on July 18 and 19 alone, 18,000 Syrians fled across the border into Lebanon—meaning that in just two days, the estimated number of refugees in Lebanon increased nearly 60 percent. Overall, 117,000 Syrian refugees have registered with UNHCR in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey. This has become a humanitarian crisis. The United States has provided $64 million during the current fiscal year to address the needs of those displaced by violence, and we urge other donors to provide support.
Let me also reiterate what President Obama said Monday about one of the most worrisome aspects of the Syria crisis: the regime has now acknowledged stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. President Assad and those around him have been duly warned that the world is watching and that they will be held accountable should the regime make the grievous mistake of using such weapons.
Mr. President, Lebanon has been particularly hard hit by Assad's aggression. Syrian military forces have repeatedly shelled Lebanese territory, resulting in civilian deaths in several locations. We condemn these acts and demand that the Syrian regime cease these egregious violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty. As reiterated in this Council’s July 19 press statement, the international community is unified in its demand that Lebanon’s sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity and the authority of the Lebanese state must be respected in accordance with Security Council resolutions.
Despite these destabilizing external dynamics, Lebanese President Sleiman continues to press ahead with National Dialogue talks, an initiative we welcome. We support the efforts of Lebanese political leaders to remain focused on maintaining calm, including safeguarding Lebanon from the effects of the crisis in neighboring Syria. In addition, we welcomed Prime Minister Mikati’s June 11 announcement that the Government of Lebanon fulfilled its 2012 funding obligation to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Now, I will turn to our shared goals related to comprehensive Middle East peace. During Secretary of State Clinton’s recent trip, she met separately with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu and reinforced the message that the United States supports the parties’ continued engagement based on the leaders’ exchange of letters earlier this year. She underscored our view that the status quo is unsustainable. She reiterated that our goal remains an independent Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside a Jewish democratic state of Israel.
During her visit, Secretary Clinton stated publically, “…it is only through negotiation, not through international venues or unilateral acts, that peace can be, and will be, secured.” We believe that unilateral actions harm the peace process and only entrench both sides. The use of international fora to force decisions on final status issues that must be resolved directly by the parties does nothing to tangibly improve the daily lives of Palestinians nor foster the trust between the parties needed to make progress toward a two-state solution. It is incumbent upon both parties to discontinue unilateral actions that jeopardize efforts to achieve peace.
The United States reiterates that it does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity and opposes any effort to legalize settlement outposts. As we work to put the parties back on the path of direct negotiations, we must also address the realities on the ground. The international community, along with the Palestinian people, has invested a great deal in the Palestinian Authority’s institution-building efforts. Sustaining that effort is now in jeopardy, as the Palestinian Authority faces its worst financial crisis ever. Israel, the donor community, and the Palestinian leadership are all taking steps to address that crisis, but the financial gap remains large and the consequences of failing to close that gap are severe. More needs to be done now to avoid a collapse of the institutions so vital to providing for the daily needs, governance, and security of the residents of the West Bank.
We should also all focus our support on UNRWA, particularly in this time of financial crisis for that Agency. UNRWA is providing essential services to the Palestinian refugee population in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan, and—it is important to remember—in Syria. UNRWA is providing education for over 485,000 schoolchildren, primary health care in 138 clinics, and social services for the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees, particularly in Lebanon and Gaza.
Before concluding, let me reiterate that any further rocket fire on southern Israel from Gaza is simply unacceptable. We remind members of the paralyzing effect these attacks have on the lives of innocent Israelis and the threat they pose to the peace process and to the region, generally. The international community must stand united in opposition to such threats.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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