Barak to UN: Hezbollah Arms Target Israeli Civilians

Defense Min. meets in New York with UN chief; Ban urges Israel to allow construction materials into Gaza.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the arms Iran and Syria are providing to Hezbollah in Lebanon serve only to harm Israeli civilians.

Barak and Ban met in New York to discuss Lebanon, the Iran nuclear program, the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the renewal of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Hezbollah is an army that is armed by Iran and Syria," Barak said. "It has more than 40,000 missiles aimed at Israel's civilians, and these are weapons of terror."

Barak added, "At the same time, the terror organization Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government, of the Lebanese cabinet, and this makes no sense. Israel demands that Lebanon implement UN Resolution 1701. The weapons Iran and Syria transfer to Lebanon are offensive arms whose sole purpose is to harm Israeli civilians."

The Defense Minister also addressed Iran's controversial nuclear program, calling for harsh sanctions.

"Nuclear weapons in Iran will change the strategic balance in the region," said Barak. "We must impose harsh sanctions, with a defined time frame, on Iran."

Ban said he supported Israel's position on preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and added that the UN would do everything in its ability to advance sanctions against Iran.

On the humanitarian situation in Gaza, Barak said that Israel is working to ease the lives of Gaza's residents and to prevent humanitarian problems.

Barak went on to criticize the Goldstone report, which accused both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during Israel's three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip last year.

"We are talking about a tendentious, one-sided report that harms the ability of democracies to fight against terror organizations, particularly those that operate from populated areas. The only accomplishment of the Goldstone report is that it strengthens terror organizations and their cynical use of civilians as human shields," he said.

Ban expressed concern over Israel's "new demolition order in East Jerusalem and the inclusion of holy sites in occupied West Bank on an Israeli heritage list," said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

"The secretary general also expressed concern on the situation in Gaza and his disappointment that Israel has not accepted the UN proposal to kick start a civilian recovery," Nesirky added.

Ban urged Israel to allow construction materials to enter Gaza as part of plans to rebuild facilities destroyed during the Israel-Hamas conflict in the winter of 2009.

The meeting was Barak's first on a brief trip to New York and Washington. He is also scheduled to meet U.S. envoy George Mitchell, who is trying to revive the stalemated Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other senior U.S. officials.

Palestinians and Arab states have protested Israel's decision to include some holy sites in the West Bank in its heritage list for the purpose of refurbishing them.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the Israeli move as a "provocation" and warned of a "religious war" as a consequence.