United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, says the mounting death toll, including children in the Palestine-Israel conflict is totally unacceptable.
According to the UN chief, de-escalation of the conflict is “an absolute must”.
Before now, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process in November 2019, spelled out to the Security Council that regardless of any national policy declarations, Israeli settlement activities are “a flagrant violation under international law”,
Regretting the United States’ announcement that it “no longer views settlements as inconsistent with international law”, Nickolay Mladenov told the 15-member Council that “the UN position remains unchanged”.
And he called the settlements “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”.
“Unilateral moves fuel anger and disillusionment and significantly undermine the prospects for establishing a contiguous and viable Palestinian State with Jerusalem as the future capital of both States”, he stressed.
Gaza ‘highly volatile’
Briefing ambassadors inside the chamber, the Special Coordinator noted that the Council was meeting just a few days after “the most serious recent escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza”.
He acknowledged that the immediate crisis was diffused but maintained that “the situation remains highly volatile”.
Mladenov painted a picture of militant activity, rocket fire and retaliatory air-strikes that had claimed civilian lives on both sides.
Recognizing Egypt’s close collaboration with the UN in brokering a ceasefire, he reported that calm in Gaza was restored after 48 hours of hostilities, but added that “had our efforts failed, we would certainly be in the midst of another war that would be far worse than the terrible conflict in 2014”.
Flagging that “the dangers have not passed”, he reminded that indiscriminate rocket and mortar attacks against civilians are “unacceptable and must stop immediately”.
Turning to other risks, Mladenov cited Israeli border closures and intra-Palestinian division between various factions in Gaza, as feeding “a desperate reality”.
While over the past year and a half, the UN has taken steps to ease tensions and prevent escalation, he asserted, “they fall short in terms of financial resources, political commitment by Palestinian leaders, and measures by Israel”.
A lasting solution, must be political: “Israel cannot continue with its policy of closures that stifles development” he argued, and “Palestinian leaders cannot continue to avoid the devastating consequences of their internal political division”.
The Special Coordinator reminded the Council of its ultimate goal to help “Palestinians to develop freely, without relentless occupation, and Israelis to live in security, free from the fear of terror and rockets”.
Tanya Hary, Director of the Israeli human rights organization Gisha, Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, presented a sober analysis of the situation for Council members, sharing stories that illustrated the difficulties of living under Gaza restrictions.
She highlighted that “women are disproportionately affected” and maintained that it was incumbent upon the international community to allow “maximum access”, lift restrictions on goods and “catalyze peace” by reversing current trends.
However, speaking in Moscow after meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister, Guterres said that an end to the violence, which has seen more than 50 Palestinians killed along with six Israelis since Monday, according to news reports, was needed “to protect the lives of civilians that are now dying in totally unacceptable circumstances”.
In New York, the renewed conflict represents the most serious escalation between Israelis and Palestinians “in years”, the UN Special Coordinator for the region told the Security Council.
UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, briefed reporters in New York at the regular noon press conference, on the update given by Tor Wennesland, to the Council, which met behind closed doors.
End the shelling, exercise restraint
“We are very concerned by the growing civilian casualties in both Gaza ad Israel and deeply saddened by reported deaths of children in Gaza”, said Dujarric, adding that both the Secretary-General and Wennesland have both reiterated that “Hamas and other militants’ indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars from highly populated civilian neighbourhoods towards civilian population centres violates international humanitarian law, and it is unacceptable and has to stop immediately.”
The Spokesperson said the Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process had also told ambassadors that Israeli authorities must “abide by their responsibilities under international law and that Israeli security forces should exercise maximum restraint, calibrate their use of force to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of military operations.”
Guterres ‘appalled’ at child deaths
The Secretary-General is “particularly appalled that children continue to be victims of violence”, said Dujarric, adding that youngsters needed to be given special protection.
“He and his Envoy have called on the international community to take action to enable the parties to step back from the brink and return to the previous understandings that have maintained a relative calm in Gaza and avoid a descent into chaos, with the massive casualties and immense damage to civilian infrastructure that would result”, added the UN Spokesperson.
Wennesland reminded Council members that it is the civilian population on both sides, that bears the burden of war and that the most vulnerable are the ones at greatest risk of suffering.
He also told the Council that the cycle of violence would only end with a political resolution of the conflict, an end to the occupation and a realization of a two-State solution on the basis of UN resolutions, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States.
The Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, said on Wednesday that at least 14 children in Palestine and one child in Israel have been reported killed since Monday.
‘Dangerous tipping point’
She noted that another 95 children in Gaza and the West Bank – including East Jerusalem – and three children in Israel have reportedly been injured in the past five days.
“The situation is at a dangerous tipping point. The level of violence and its impact on children is devastating. We are on the brink of a full-scale war. In any war, children – all children – suffer first and suffer most.”
She urged all sides to “protect all civilians, especially children, to spare essential civilian infrastructure from attacks, and to end violations against children.”