Amid continuing air strikes and rocket attacks, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process has warned that the situation is ”escalating towards a full-scale war”.
The warning came as he added his voice to calls for calm in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Head of UN Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), Rosemary DiCario, in the dying days of April 2019, pointed out that though the UN has been addressing the humanitarian, economic and political crisis in the Territory ”efforts are continually undermined by the lack of any political progress towards a two-State solution”.
She spoke while briefing the UN Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, hoping for two States living side by side in peace, “continue to be replaced by the rising fears of future annexation. The possibility of establishing a viable and contiguous Palestinian State continues to be eroded by facts on the ground.”
The UN had “repeatedly warned that the conflict cannot be managed in perpetuity”, she said, adding that without any change in approach, there would only be more deterioration, “radicalization on all sides, more suffering and conflict.”
The political and peacebuilding chief told Council members that Israeli settlements continue to expand, despite having “no legal effect” and constituting a “violation of international law”.
In a continuing cycle of violence, Ms. DiCarlo noted that out of seven Palestinians overall, four children had been killed in Gaza by Israeli forces in the first quarter of the year, with 1,316 injured during ongoing protests, centred around the border fence.
She condemned violence on both sides, and reminded Israel lethal force could only be used “in response to an imminent threat of death or serious injury as a last resort.”
Gaza crisis deepens
The DPPA chief said that was making “important progress” in implementing a programme of humanitarian aid and economic support to stabilise the situation in the Gaza Strip, which continues to be blockaded by Israel, and subject to intra-Palestinian strife, between the extremists of Hamas and the West Bank-based Fatah faction.
“As we consistently reiterate, at its core the crisis in Gaza is political”, she said. “Significant progress on the lifting of the closures and advancing intra-Palestinian reconciliation remain essential.”
She said over the past year, $110 million had been raised for fuel, health, water, sanitation and job programmes in Gaza, while $4.6 million had been put aside since September to help delivery essential medications and support some 9,500 surgeries.
Turning to the border demarcation between southern Lebanon and northern Israel, or “Blue Line”, Ms. DiCarlo said the situation was calm, although the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, UNiFiL, has now confirmed the existence of five tunnels which have been dug under the border, “three of which it has confirmed cross the Blue Line, and constitute a violation of resolution 1701”, said Ms. DiCarlo.
As we mobilize in each crisis to address the critical needs of the Palestinian population, be it in Gaza or the West Bank,” she concluded, “we shall not lose sight of the core political issue, namely the prospect of two peaceful and secure states living side by side in harmony.
“This imperative compels us all to work with the parties, bring them back to the negotiation table and urge them to avoid unilateral actions that undermine the prospect for peace” she added. “Only determined action by the parties themselves can salvage the two-State solution.”
However, Tor Wennesland, in a post on Twitter said, “stop the fire immediately. We’re escalating towards a full scale war.”
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as of 5 pm Tuesday at least 28 people, including 10 children, were reported to have been killed in Gaza in Israeli airstrikes, and two women were killed in Israel as a result of rockets fired from Gaza. Many more are said to be injured on both sides.
Wennesland stressed that the “cost of war in Gaza is devastating and is being paid by ordinary people”.
“Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of deescalation … stop the violence now”, he added.
UNRWA, the UN agency that assists Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, expressed “profound concern” over the impact of the military escalation on children and called on parties to exercise maximum restraint.
“Our hearts go out to their families and friends in communities that have been so cruelly affected by this latest escalation”, UNRWA said in a statement.
“Children are and must be protected under International Law and those responsible for breaching their obligations must be held fully accountable on the basis of clear evidence”, it added, reiterating its appeal to all parties “to exercise maximum restraint and comply with their obligations under International Law in the strictest terms, including with regard to protecting the inherent right to life of children”.
OCHA also highlighted that current escalation in the region risks worsening “an already poor humanitarian situation”, especially in Gaza, where the struggling health sector is further burdened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Of immediate concern is the shutdown of Gaza’s sole power plant by the end of this week due to lack of fuel, with negative consequences for the provision of vital services”, it said.
OCHA added that the humanitarian community, including UN agencies and the NGO partners, are continuing to deliver assistance to those in need, with the protection of civilians of paramount importance.