Situation in Middle East (including Palestine Question) - Security Council Open VTC

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23-Apr-2020 02:13:19
Palestinian-Israeli cooperation to combat COVID-19 pandemic under threat by new push for West Bank annexation, Special Coordinator warns Security Council.

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While Israelis and Palestinians are cooperating in unprecedented ways to combat the expanding COVID-19 pandemic, Israel must do more to safeguard the health of all people under its control, the senior United Nations official in the region told the Security Council in a 23 April videoconference meeting.

Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, also briefed the 15-member Council on the potentially serious consequences of Israel’s renewed threats to annex parts of the West Bank — land proposed as part of a future Palestinian State — emphasizing that such a move would violate international law, deal a devastating blow to a two-State solution and close the door to future negotiations. He said the two sides should embrace the window of opportunity for unity presented by COVID-19 and walk back such threats. “I strongly urge Israeli and Palestinian leaders to seize this moment to take steps towards peace, to reject unilateral moves that will only deepen the wedge between the two peoples and undermine the chances for peace,” he stressed.

Recalling that the two leading Israeli political parties agreed in recent days to form a joint emergency Government — with the land annexation plan serving as part of the deal — he noted that the Palestinian Authority has threatened that such a move would cancel the implementation of all existing bilateral agreements. The looming political crisis detracts from significant cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, alongside the United Nations and other partners, to combat the spread of the coronavirus, he said.

Outlining the United Nations response, he said the Organization put forward an initial request for $34 million to address immediate public health and humanitarian needs in the Middle East. Since the start of the epidemic, the United Nations has delivered more than 1 million essential supplies such as lab equipment, personal protective gear and thousands of COVID-19 tests. Those items have reached hospitals and clinics directly, as well as through the Palestinian Ministry of Health, and trainings are under way for health workers in the Gaza Strip. Israel is also providing support to Palestinians in combating the pandemic, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has opened its health services to non-refugees in Gaza.

Nevertheless, he said, Palestinian authorities have reported acute shortages of medical equipment. Currently, only two of six hospitals in East Jerusalem are equipped to address cases of COVID-19, and the Israeli closure of a testing clinic in the Silwan area on 14 April raised concerns. Urging staff of all prisons and detention centres to consider releasing vulnerable individuals in their charge, he noted that the crisis is heavily affecting women and exacerbating inequality. He also expressed concern that losses to the Palestinian economy could amount to $1 billion, as the Palestinian Authority lacks access to many conventional financial tools.

Despite a marked decrease in clashes amid the pandemic, several rocket launches from Gaza were reported during the period under review, he said. Hamas security forces detained eight civil society activists on grounds that have been questioned by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Some crossing points in Gaza were closed and more severe movement restrictions put in place. Sporadic violent incidents continued, resulting in three Palestinians killed and 25 injured, and several local Palestinian leaders were detained and later released. Meanwhile, the continued targeting of water and hygiene structures also remains a serious source of concern amid the pandemic.

Turning to other parts of the region, he said that while the situation in the Occupied Syrian Golan remains largely stable, several drones and aircrafts were observed flying over the Area of Separation, revealing that the risk of conflict may be escalating. Lebanon — which has instituted a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 — has seen renewed protests in some places, and its Palestine refugee camps have become increasingly volatile as residents severely impacted by the country’s economic crisis now face the mounting threat of the virus.

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