UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found himself dealing with yet another minor crisis in the Middle East recently, when Syria filed a protest with UN leaders regarding Israel's distributing wine from the contested Golan Heights as year-end holiday gifts to UN staff. Syria has asked that UN delegates be instructed to refuse the token gift.
Israel's UN mission confirmed it had sent out the wine but said this was perfectly appropriate: "The Golan Heights is an integral part of the State of Israel and the wine produced in that region is some of the best in the country. As such, we were pleased to share it with our colleagues," Israeli mission spokeswoman Mirit Cohen said on Friday.
Israel captured the strategic territory from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed it in 1981 in a move rejected by the United Nations. The future of the Heights is a key issue in any future Israeli-Syrian peace deal.
In letters to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto, Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari condemned the Israeli mission's "provocative and irresponsible behavior" in distributing wine from grapes harvested, and in bottles made, on the Golan.
"I would appreciate it if you would request all United Nations staff to refrain from accepting these Israeli gifts produced illegally in occupied Syrian territory," he said. The letters, dated December. 31, were made public on Friday.
Ban's spokeswoman, Michele Montas, said she had no immediate comment on Ja'afari's letter.
Yitzhak Benhorin contributed to this report