Lebanon + 1 more

Lebanon: Ban Ki-moon briefs Security Council on tense Middle East situation

The situation in the Middle East remains volatile and tense, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned the Security Council today, with fresh clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the resumption of fighting at a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon.

Briefing Council members in a closed-door session after returning from Berlin, where he took part in a meeting of the principals of the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East, Mr. Ban said he has spoken to several regional leaders to try to help alleviate the situation.

He noted that the Quartet voiced support for the ongoing bilateral talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as regional efforts - particularly the Arab Peace Initiative - to find a solution to the conflict.

The Quartet, which comprises the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States, decided to meet at an undetermined location in the Middle East on 26 June or the day after to continue the momentum of international peace efforts, Mr. Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters.

Quartet members will meet with Israelis and Palestinians and will then hold a separate meeting with members of the Arab League to follow up on the Arab Peace Initiative, Ms. Montas added.

In northern Lebanon, fighting has again resumed between Lebanese army forces and Fatah al-Islam gunmen entrenched in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp near the city of Tripoli.

The shelling today has been heavier than on previous days, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported, and it has meant the agency is unable to obtain first-hand information on the latest conditions for civilians living in the camp.

UNRWA estimates that about 5,000 people remain at Nahr el-Bared, less than two weeks after the deadly clashes erupted in a camp that was home to about 31,000 people. Most refugees fled to Tripoli or the nearby camp of Beddawi during lulls in the fighting.