Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question - Security Council VTC Open Debate

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16-May-2021 03:15:31
Senseless cycle of bloodshed, destruction between Israel, Palestinians in Gaza must stop now, Secretary-General tells Security Council.

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Senior Government Officials Call for Immediate Ceasefire, Relaunching Peace Talks

As fighting between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza broke furiously into its seventh day, foreign ministers in the Security Council today called unequivocally for an immediate end to the bloodshed, sounding alarm bells over the imminent potential for the violence to spill into the wider region.

In opening remarks, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres described the hostilities as “utterly appalling”. The events have caused unconscionable death, immense suffering and damage to vital infrastructure. “Fighting must stop,” he stressed. The United Nations is actively engaging all sides towards an immediate ceasefire.

He deplored the increasingly large numbers of Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza from Israeli air strikes, as well as Israeli fatalities from rockets launched from Gaza. He also expressed deep concern over violent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, where Palestinian families are under threat of eviction. In Israel, violence by vigilante-style groups and mobs has added another horrendous dimension to the crisis. Leaders on all sides have a responsibility to curb inflammatory rhetoric and calm the rising tensions.

“The fighting has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis” and to foster extremism — not only in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole, he stressed.

Thousands of Palestinians have been forced to leave their homes in Gaza to shelter in schools, mosques and other places with limited access to water, food, hygiene or health services, he continued. Israeli civilians, meanwhile, live in fear of rockets launched from Gaza. “I am appalled by the attack on a refugee camp in Gaza, in which 10 members of one family were killed,” he said. Humanitarian installations must be protected, and journalists must be allowed to work free of fear and harassment. He likewise denounced the destruction of media offices in Gaza as extremely concerning.

“This senseless cycle of bloodshed, terror and destruction must stop immediately,” he said. He called on all parties to respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law, stressing that the status quo at the holy sites must be respected.

Above all, he said the United Nations remains deeply committed to working with Israelis and Palestinians and with its international and regional partners, including the Middle East Quartet, to realize a lasting and just peace. Stressing that he is in contact with relevant interlocuters, he again called on the parties to allow mediation efforts to intensify and succeed. The only way forward is to return to negotiations with the goal of two States, living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States, based on relevant United Nations resolutions, international law and prior agreements. “The longer this cycle of violence continues, the more challenging it will be to reach that ultimate goal,” he affirmed.

Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said the past week has seen the deadliest escalation between Israeli military forces and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza in seven years, as well as dramatic scenes of violence across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. In the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, there have been protests and clashes over the threat of Palestinian evictions by settler organizations. Meanwhile, in the Old City, including in the Holy Esplanade, violent clashes have unfolded between Palestinians and Israeli civilians and police. Police deployed a heavy presence in the area in the context of large numbers of visitors for Ramadan prayers, protests and Israeli extremist demonstrations, leading to clashes.

According to preliminary numbers, he said, 177 Palestinians and 10 Israelis have been killed by Israeli air strikes and Palestinian militant rockets. Israeli official sources say that Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other militants have launched more than 2,900 indiscriminate rockets from Gaza towards Israel. Nine Israelis, including five women and two children, and one Indian national were killed and over 250 injured. Rockets have reached as far as the outskirts of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and its suburbs, and Ben Gurion airport. While a significant number of rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome, 450 fell in built up areas and many others landed short inside Gaza, accounting for Palestinian casualties. Direct hits have been reported in multiple locations, causing damage to residential and commercial property, as well as a school and a crude oil pipeline.

In Gaza, he said humanitarian and security conditions are more dire by the day. In response to Palestinian militant rocket attacks that began on 10 May, Israeli defence forces have conducted 950 strikes against what they said were militant targets, including weapons factories and depots, tunnel networks, Hamas training facilities, intelligence and security headquarters and offices and the homes of senior Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives. According to Israel, those strikes have killed more than 100 operatives, including senior commanders. The civilian death toll also continues to mount, with Gaza health authorities reporting at least 44 children and 31 women killed and 1,200 injured as of this morning. Over 34,000 people have been displaced from their homes.

“Such tragedies are unacceptable and cannot be justified nor measured,” he said, describing the deaths this morning of Palestinian families struck inside their homes, and of a five-year-old Israeli boy in Sderot and a father and daughter in Lod. Warning that intensification of hostilities would have devastating consequences for both Palestinians and Israelis, he said the United Nations is working tirelessly with all sides to restore calm. He reiterated the Secretary-General’s urgent call on Israel and Palestinian armed groups to take immediate and decisive steps to de-escalate the situation and prevent any further loss of life. While Israelis and Palestinians have a legitimate right to safety and security, “the violence we are witnessing now is unacceptable and unjustifiable”, he stressed.

Describing rocket launches by Hamas and other militants from highly populated civilian neighbourhoods into Israeli civilian population centres as a violation of international law that must immediately cease, he stressed that Israel must also abide by the international humanitarian law principles governing armed conflict — including the proportional use of force and exercise of maximum restraint to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of military operations.

Turning to regional dynamics, he said that on 13 May, Israeli defence forces reported that three rockets were fired from Lebanon into the sea off the coast of northern Israel. Lebanese Armed Forces confirmed the firing and reported finding of material near a Palestine refugee camp in Rashidiyeh. On 14 May, up to 100 individuals protested north of the Blue Line, some waving Palestinian and Hizbullah flags. The Israeli defence forces fired multiple warning shots, reportedly injuring two, and a Lebanese citizen later died. In addition, three rockets were launched from Syria, with no reports of damage or injuries, and mass protests in solidarity with Palestinians also took place at Israel’s border with Jordan.

Meanwhile, he said, violence in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, continues to increase. Since 10 May, 19 Palestinians have been killed, including two children, and more than 4,000 Palestinians were injured by Israel’s security forces. At least eight Israelis were also injured in these incidents. On 14 May, violence escalated as Palestinians held a “Day of Rage” in support of Gaza, with numerous clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces. “This is the highest number of Palestinian fatalities recorded in a single day in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since the United Nations began recording fatalities in 2008,” he said.

Outlining the severe damage to infrastructure in Gaza, he said the lack of electricity has led to a decrease of clean water and sewage treatment affecting hundreds of thousands. The health system, already overwhelmed by chronic drug shortages, inadequate equipment and the COVID-19 pandemic, will likely be unable to meet the needs of those injured during the violence. Since 10 May, Israel’s authorities have kept Gaza crossings closed. Calling on them to urgently open crossings for the movement of critical staff and supplies, he said the situation also requires a pause in fighting to allow for a restock of supplies and an assessment of damages and needs.

“We cannot allow the situation to slide further into chaos,” he stressed, reiterating the Secretary-General’s appeal for an immediate cessation of hostilities and his dire warning that this conflict will increase radicalization and extremism in the whole region. He called on the international community to “take action now” and enable the parties to step back from the brink. The cycles of violence will only be ended by a political resolution which addresses the status of Jerusalem and other final status issues, an end to the occupation, and the realization of a two-State solution based on United Nations resolutions, international law and mutual agreements. To that end, he reiterated his call on the Middle East Quartet, as well as on key Arab and international partners and Israeli and Palestinian leaders, to return to meaningful negotiations.

In the ensuing debate, foreign ministers from around the world echoed calls for an immediate ceasefire and a laser focus on brokering the conditions necessary for a relaunch of peace negotiations. Delegates were unified on the need for the Security Council to address the crisis, and for parties to strictly observe international law and end all violence against civilians. Senior officials from Jordan, Egypt, the United States, the Russian Federation and France in particular highlighted the highest-level engagement of their Governments in those charged and fast evolving endeavours.

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