Amid troubling situation in Middle East, UN envoy warns against 'sleep-walking into another violent conflict'
19 October 2016 – The absence of progress towards a two-state solution has led to growing anger and frustration among Palestinians and profound disillusionment among Israelis, the top United Nations Middle East envoy warned today: “We must all avoid the risk of sleep-walking into another violent conflict at a time when the region as a whole needs moderate forces” to stand up to rising radicalization.
“Allow me to also be abundantly clear to those who build tunnels, fire rockets, smuggle military materiel, profit from the black market or seek to create confrontation: their actions are dangerous and irresponsible,” the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, told the Council via videoconference.
Expressing concern at recent violence in East Jerusalem and the ensuing “glorification” of the attack by Hamas and other groups, the Special Coordinator further noted that a long-term solution to the issues in the region could only be reached through negotiations, not violence.
He reported that Israel continues its settlement planning, including recent promotion of an initial 98 out of 300 housing units in Shilo, located deep in the occupied West Bank, noting that if implemented, this plan would “drive a wedge” between north and south in the West Bank and jeopardize the contiguity of a future Palestinian state.
Mr. Mladenov also reiterated the position of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that settlements are illegal under international law and undermine the two-state solution.
The Special Coordinator also expressed concern at postponement of local council elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, noting that the resulting political disputes, accusations, legal challenges and counter-challenges have left the people of the two enclaves feeling more apart. He also expressed concern at recent calls by Hamas legislators in Gaza for the Hamas-led government to resume its work in Gaza.
“Such a step would seriously undermine the Palestinian Government of National Consensus and would also make the reconciliation almost impossible,” Mr. Mladenov warned.
Further reiterating the joint position of Russia, the United States, the European Union (EU) and the UN Secretary-General, as stated in the recent report issued by the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process, that the illicit arms build-up and militant activity in Gaza must be terminated, Mr. Mladenov cautioned that such actions increase the risk of a new escalation of hostilities and keep thousands of people on both sides of the border under a constant threat of attack.
He further added that the militant threat, however, should not serve as “an excuse” for Israel to indiscriminately harm civilians in Gaza. “In addition to the continuing severely restrictive closures, I am concerned by persistent incursions and the almost daily firing and shelling by Israeli forces into Gaza along the fence and at sea,” said the UN official.
He also informed the 15-member body of his recent visit to Gaza and the significant slowdown of reconstruction projects due to import limitations and revoking of projects and urged all parties to the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism to recommit to ensuring its smooth operation. “Failing to do that will put in question the viability of the mechanism and undermine the precarious calm in Gaza today,” he said.
Concluding his briefing, Mr. Mladenov reminded the Security Council that Gaza’s future is intricately linked to the future of the Palestinian people. He added: “The longer its population continues to suffer under the intolerable weight of Gaza’s current dynamics, the further Palestinians are from realizing that objective, and the closer we are to the next major escalation.”
For his part, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien highlighted that humanitarian needs continue to be high and that nearly every resident in the occupied Palestinian territory is recognized as being affected by the protection crisis.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator O’Brien “In Gaza, humanitarian needs stem from nearly 10 years of closures and restrictions imposed by Israel following the military takeover by Hamas,” said Mr. O’Brien, adding that the situation has been exasperated by successive rounds of hostilities between Hamas and Israel, internal Palestinian political divisions and Egypt’s near complete closure of its border crossing with Gaza.
He added that such events had left half of Gaza’s households with severe food insecurity, and lacking clean water and reliable electricity.
The worst sufferers, Mr. O’Brien said, were the children. “A 10-year-old child today has already experienced three rounds of conflict in her short life. Nearly 230,000 children continue to be in need of psychosocial support and an estimated 250,000 children require mine risk awareness, due to the prevalence of explosive remnants of war. Israeli children along the Gaza border have been impacted as well and continue to live in fear.”
Recalling his earlier briefing this year to the Council, Mr. O’Brien, also the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the head of UN humanitarian wing (OCHA), underlined the need for collective action address the humanitarian needs.
“We must move towards decisive action that will reduce humanitarian needs, secure respect for international law and bring to Palestinians and Israelis alike the hope and reality of a stable, peaceful and prosperous future,” he said.
Mosul: Though no large-scale displacement, concerns remain for 1.5 million civilians
Further in his briefing, the UN humanitarian chief updated Council members on the humanitarian situation in Iraq, particularly in light of the military operation to recapture Mosul. He reported that military activities remain concentrated in less populated areas, with no large-scale civilian displacement recorded at this stage.
However, he expressed deep concerns over the safety of up to 1.5 million people living in the city as hostilities intensify and progress towards densely populated areas.
“We believe families in Mosul will be at great risk during this operation, of getting caught in cross-fire or directly targeted by snipers as they foraged for food,” he said, expressing worry that civilians may be used as human shields or be forcibly expelled and become trapped between front lines.
“The elderly, the disabled, and pregnant women, may be unable to move to safety without assistance and on past evidence the so called Islamic State’s practices cause the greatest concern for protection issues,” he added.
According to OHCA estimates, some 200,000 people may be displaced over the coming weeks, with up to one million displaced in the course of the operation in a worst-case scenario. Of these, it is estimated that 700,000 will require shelter and emergency assistance.
Shelter has so far been prepared for 60,000 people in camps and emergency sites, and preparation of sites for a further 250,000 people is accelerating. Emergency supplies are being pre-positioned close to displacement sites; mobile clinics, health, and protection teams are prepared; and food trucks are on standby.