U.N. Warns of Fragile Situation in Lebanon

By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press Writer

UNITED NATIONS – The U.N.’s top political official warned that despite recent progress the situation in Lebanon is fragile and violence between Israelis and Palestinians is steadily increasing.

Kieran Prendergast, the undersecretary-general for political affairs, called Wednesday for an end to bombings and acts of intimidation as Lebanon prepares for parliamentary elections starting May 29. The elections are happening under a new government that was installed following the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Prendergast also urged Israel and the Palestinians to meet on a continuing basis to address the rising violence that is “compounding a corresponding deterioration in trust and confidence between the two sides.”

In a briefing to the U.N. Security Council, Prendergast said Israel’s pullout from Gaza and parts of the West Bank “should be seen as a highly significant step along the road toward realizing the vision of two states, Israel and a sovereign, viable, and contiguous Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

He called on Palestinians to strengthen their efforts to end all violence against Israel “and produce tangible results on the ground” to ensure Israel’s security.

At the same time, he said Israel must do more to support the Palestinian leadership, warning that further Israeli delays in handing over control of the three remaining Palestinian cities and in releasing prisoners threatens to seriously undermine President Mahmoud Abbas.

The United Nations also remains “extremely concerned” about Israel’s continued construction of a barrier in the West Bank, which cuts deeply into Palestinian territory near the settlement of Ariel, Prendergast said.

While there have been some hopeful signs in Lebanon, Prendergast said, “the situation remains equally fragile.”

He cited recent bombings and a series of incidents last week on both sides of the U.N.-drawn Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel that escalated tensions “to an alarming degree.”

He said the United Nations will soon deploy an independent commission to investigate Hariri’s assassination.

The assassination was the catalyst for a Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon, ending a 29-year military presence in the country.

A U.N. team sent to Lebanon to verify the withdrawal of Syrian troops and security officers has returned to New York to write its report. But the team could return to Lebanon if it decides it needs further information, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said.

Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad said Damascus is expecting “a good report that reflects the reality.”