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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.

Riad Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the State of Palestine, said there are no words to describe the horrors his people are enduring, noting that only five months ago, Omar Al Hadidi came into life and will now grow old without his mother and brothers, ages 6, 8 and 14 — all killed by an Israeli air strike. He recounted other casualties, entreating Council members that “when you embrace your children and grandchildren tonight, think of our children” and “what it feels to see your world crumbling down”.

Each time Israel hears a foreign leader speak of its right to defend itself, it is emboldened to continue murdering families in their sleep. “Israel is killing Palestinians in Gaza, one family at a time,” he said, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is unapologetic and relentless in pursuing its colonial policies. He asked what Palestinians are entitled to do to defend themselves, questioning whether they will receive support for investigations by the International Criminal Court — or deprived of a venue for justice.

He likewise questioned what tools the international community is prepared to deploy to ensure Israel’s compliance with its obligations and bring about an end to its occupation — tools it uses regularly in other conflicts: military intervention, sanctions, the suspension of bilateral relations, prosecution of those who commit crimes, or imposition of an arms embargo, among them. He wondered how Israel could believe that its troops, “storming the holiest of sites, Al-Aqsa Mosque, on the holiest of months, Ramadan, and on the holiest of nights, the night of destiny,” would bear no consequence. “We are not two neighbours living side by side in peace,” he assured. He described Israel as an armed thief who has “entered our house and is terrorizing our family”, claiming a right to security that it denies to Palestinians. Israel is also a nuclear Power with a military arsenal, the Iron Dome and shelters, while Gazans are besieged.

Palestinian civilians need protection, he emphasized, and they deserve compassion, solidarity and action. They are victims of dispossession, forced displacement, discrimination and denial of rights on both sides of the Green Line and in exile. Palestinians enjoy support from many nations that are informed by their own historic struggles for freedom and “know oppression when they see it”. He questioned the whereabouts of those who had proclaimed they had achieved peace in the Middle East by brokering agreements between countries that were not actually at war, or the real estate agents who claimed they could sell what they do not own.

“Jerusalem is not for sale,” he declared. “Our roots are deep,” with Palestinian heritage etched into every stone, street and ally in the city. “War and peace start from Jerusalem.” Saving peace starts with saving Sheikh Jarrah, protecting Al-Haram Al-Sharif from attempts to divide it temporally and spatially. The international consensus that the Council has helped to shape and defend is being destroyed. “Act now to end the aggression and the assault on our people,” he said. Palestinian freedom is the only path to peace. It is the Council’s legal and moral duty to help achieve it.

The representative of Israel displayed a photo of a 16-year-old Arab girl from Israel, who was murdered on 12 May by the radical terrorist group Hamas. Millions of Israelis have been huddling across Israel to avoid rocket fire. Turning to Council members, he asked: “What would you do if thousands of terrorist rockets were being fired at your country?” It is far from the first time that Hamas has fired rockets at Israeli civilians, all while hiding behind Palestinian civilians. This time is different because the campaign is part of a premediated, malicious plan to incite violence and take power in the West Bank, ultimately replacing the Palestinian Authority. Explaining that Hamas was frustrated by President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision in April to postpone elections yet again, he said the group deliberately chose to escalate tensions in Jerusalem “as a pretext to start this war”.

Rejecting yet another pretext used by Hamas — accusations of meddling by the Israeli Government in a recent high-profile court case — he declared: “Israel is a country of law, with a robust and independent judiciary.” It is well known that the Government does not interfere with court proceedings. Those accusations are false, and there can never be any excuse or justification for terrorism. Hamas did not stop there, but instead went on to incite violence on the Temple Mount, as Palestinian extremists turned the Al-Aqsa Mosque into a site to stockpile weapons. Showing a photo of stones piled up at that holy site, he said the Israeli police were able to use non-lethal means to disburse the riots without a single fatality. “Israel deeply cherishes freedom of religion,” he said, noting that every year during Ramadan Palestinians are able to worship in peace. Once again this year, Israel took all possible steps to de-escalate tensions in Jerusalem, even re-routing its Jerusalem Day parade, but Hamas responded only by firing more rockets.

For years, he continued, Hamas has built a vast web of underground terror tunnels that snake beneath playgrounds, hospital maternity wards and mosques, all in an effort to drive up civilian casualties when clashes do occur. It attacks civilian infrastructure and buildings that house international media outlets. Thanking the United States and all those countries that support Israel’s right to defend itself from such acts of terrorism, he described Hamas’ attacks — which involve attacking some civilians by hiding behind other civilians — as a “double war crime”. While Israel abides strictly by international law and takes extreme measures to protect civilians, their use by Hamas as human shield can regrettably lead to civilian casualties. Against that backdrop, he warned against efforts to compare Israel and Hamas, stressing that the latter sees every Israeli death as a victory in its antisemitic plan and every Palestinian death as a success in its campaign to evoke international sympathy.

Beyond the actions of Hamas, he went on to cite recent acts of violence committed by Arab citizens against Jews — including instances of lynchings — as well as by some Jewish citizens against Palestinians, all of which are totally unacceptable. The current violence is a direct result of internal Palestinian political manoeuvring, he stressed, emphasizing that Israel has always sought peace and continues to do so. He warned the Council against choosing to avoid condemning Hamas, which will only embolden a terrorist organization that seeks to wipe Israel off the map. “Today, you can choose a different path,” he said, urging members to support Israel’s heroic efforts to defend itself and dismantle Hamas’ terror network, sending a message that it will not longer turn a blind eye to its human shield strategy.

Ayman Safadi, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of Jordan, said Israel is responsible for the difficult situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories — and everything caused by the bloodshed. “The hostilities must stop,” he insisted. “The illegitimate practices of Israel must stop.” The Council must act now to protect Palestinians, he said, underscoring the impossibility of maintaining the status quo. Lasting peace is a national and regional necessity. Peace cannot be created through settlement activities, which are a grave and flagrant violation of international law. Nor can peace be achieved by confiscating territory, forcing Palestinians to leave or by changing the historic status of historical sites in Jerusalem. Stressing that the city and its holy sites are sacred, he said “any attempt to undermine this area is provocative for 2 billion Muslims.” It is Israel’s responsibility to protect the status quo in Jerusalem, as well as the Arab and Islamic identity of its holy sites. The Council must force Israel to respect Sheikh Jarrah, he said, stressing that, according to international humanitarian law, the inhabitants of East Jerusalem are civilians and should be protected. “We are talking about a war crime,” he said, citing resolution 478 (1980). “Let us call things as they are.” The occupation is the source of the conflict. Peace and justice are diametrically opposed from this fact. International law must be respected, and resolutions must be implemented, including Security Council resolution 2334 (2016). He called for a two-State solution that establishes a Palestinian State along 4 June 1967 borders, pursuant to the Arab Peace Initiative and various Security Council resolutions. The Council must launch serious negotiations aimed at ending the occupation and shoring up peace, based on the land for peace initiative that Israel is currently undermining. “This inhuman occupation must disappear,” he insisted, stressing that Jordan seeks to work with the Council in establishing a just peace that meets the needs of all those living there.

Sameh Shoukry, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, said the Council is meeting today after 70 years of ongoing tragedy for Palestinians and 42 years after the launch of the peace process, which at the outset was a hopeful one. “This hope has little by little dissipated,” he said, amid the repeated failure to end the conflict. Today, unprecedented confrontations are taking place against worshippers in Jerusalem, including Al-Aqsa Mosque, alongside a systematic policy against Arab citizens in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. He denounced prevarication around international legal promises, including for serious negotiations on the creation of a Palestinian State decided upon before 1967. Stressing that Israel’s military operation has created victims in Gaza, jeopardizing peace and stability in the region, he said the Council must shoulder its responsibility to bring an end to the conflict and undertake efforts to deescalate the situation so that “everyone can take a deep breath and think about the causes”. The two-State solution is the only means for satisfying all the parties, he said, pointing out that the threats to regional stability did not appear over night, but rather stem from a climate of tensions perpetuated over years of systematic regression and the undermining of efforts to achieve peace in the region. Citing the confiscation of land and destruction of institutions and homes, he said Israel’s practices have even violated the holy month of Ramadan. “Al-Aqsa Mosque has become a battlefield,” he said, stressing that Egypt, aware of its responsibility to its Arab brothers, has worked at all levels to achieve an immediate ceasefire and to protect the lives of innocent people, seeking to foster a return to the negotiation table. There is no other means to achieve peace and security than by establishing a Palestinian State along 4 June 1969 lines. He insisted on the renewal and implementation of activities by the Middle East Quartet. Egypt is acting with Jordan, France and Germany in the Munich context to foster a resumption of negotiations, he said, insisting that holy sites be protected — with Hashemite guards involved in those efforts — and urging more broadly that concessions be made as a price for peace.

Wang Yi, State Councillor and Minister for Foreign Affairs of China, Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, saying that the current situation first requires an immediate ceasefire. The international community must do its part to ensure peace because without stability, the Middle East region will continue to face tensions. The use of force only brings more hatred, and parties must cease hostilities, including air strikes and rocket launches that aggravate the situation. Israel must exercise restraint, stop demolitions and end evictions. Meanwhile, the State of Palestine must avoid steps that escalate the situation and must prevent civilian casualties and work towards a peaceful solution. Turning to the grave humanitarian situation, he called on Israel to lift the Gaza blockade and facilitate the delivery of aid. Efforts must support the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in its critical work and avert a humanitarian disaster. For its part, the Council must take strong actions on the conflict, reiterate its call for a two-State solution and do more to de-escalate the violence. Regrettably, the obstruction of one country prevents the Council from speaking in one voice, he said, calling on the United States to support the 15-member organ in easing the situation, building trust and advancing a political settlement to the conflict. The two-State solution is the way forward, he said, regretting to note stalled peace talks. Recalling that this issue has been on the United Nations agenda for more than 70 years, he said the solution still remains elusive. Expressing support for peace talks and the Middle East peace process, he invited the two sides to China to resume direct negotiations. At the same time, the Council must do its part because the world is watching, he said, adding that “we must practice true multilateralism” in finding a just solution to the conflict.

Othman Jerandi, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Migration and Tunisians Abroad of Tunisia, described the recent escalation of violence as a serious threat to international peace and security. As the main body responsible for protecting vulnerable people around the world from acts of aggression, the Council must not remain silent. Reiterating Tunisia’s position in support of the Palestinian cause, he also underlined its firm rejection of Israel’s heinous attacks against unarmed Palestinians during the month of Ramadan and its ongoing efforts to change Jerusalem’s historic status and demographic makeup. Noting that the recent upheaval comes on the heels of an unjust court decision to evict Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah, as well as efforts to bar Palestinian worshippers from accessing holy sites, he urged the Council to intervene by adopting a clear position compelling the occupying Power to stop its escalation. Among other things, Israel must recognize the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and ensure that their rights under international law are fully respected. “We must not treat victims and the aggressors equally,” he warned, adding that the region will never see peace and stability without a comprehensive solution to the conflict, based on the Arab Peace Initiative.

Ine Eriksen Søreide, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, reiterating the call for a de-escalation, condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other groups towards Israeli civilians and urged Israel to ensure proportionality in its response. Appalled by the death of a large number of children, she said all parties have a duty to protect them, pointing to the hundreds of families currently being forced to flee their homes amid violence that has already damaged 35 schools in Gaza and 3 schools in Israel. Turning to the 15 May attack on media outlets in Gaza, she stressed that a free press plays a critical role in reporting from conflict zones and has a right to be protected. Hostilities must end, she said, welcoming all efforts to achieve this and calling for rapid, safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian actors to bring in food, health services and other humanitarian relief. As Jerusalem is sacred to three religions, Israeli authorities have a special duty to safeguard the rights of believers at the holy sites of East Jerusalem, she said, expecting also the rights of all residents to be upheld in accordance with international law. The events now unfolding in Gaza did not happen in a vacuum, and the international community must address the underlying issues of this crisis and such actions that are fuelling current tensions, including the risk of forced evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem. As repeatedly expressed by the Council, most recently in resolution 2334 (2016), all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal under international humanitarian law. As long as there is no peace — no two-State solution — civilians will continue to suffer, she said, emphasizing the urgent need for renewed efforts to restart peace negotiations. It is now vital that the Council speaks with one voice to address the situation.

Simon Coveney, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence of Ireland, welcomed today’s session while noting that “we have already waited too long to express ourselves in an open meeting”. He echoed the Secretary-General’s calls for de-escalation, urging members to urgently send a united message. “This is the latest tragic cycle in a conflict whose recurrence shames all of us in the United Nations and the international community,” he said. Ireland knows first-hand that the most intractable conflicts require the greatest collective response, as well as responsible leadership on all sides. He called on all the parties to refrain from violent and provocative acts — including rockets and incendiary devices launched from Gaza into Israel — while calling on the latter to abide by international law, particularly on the protection of civilians, even when acting in self-defence. Underscoring the plight of innocent children caught in the conflict, he said Israel as the occupying Power is duty bound to ensure humanitarian access into Gaza. While the focus now is on de-escalation and avoiding civilian casualties, the global community must also ask itself how to move beyond the recurring cycles of violence and beyond business as usual. “We cannot return to the flouting of international law, with the expansion of illegal settlements into occupied Palestinian territory,” he stressed, calling for serious and sustained efforts to reinvigorate and renew credible negotiations leading to a two-State solution.

The representative of the United States, noting that the human toll taken during violence over the week has been devastating, said the numbers that may grow by the end of the Council’s meeting. Also expressing alarm over the violence impacting journalists and medical personnel, she called on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and to respect international humanitarian law. She expressed particular concern about protecting United Nations facilities, noting that civilians are seeking shelter in two dozen of them. United States President Joe Biden has spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas, while the Secretary of State is working with senior Palestinian and Israeli and regional leaders. The United States also remains intensely engaged with officials from Israel, Egypt and Qatar, as well as the Special Coordinator — to establish conditions for a sustainable calm. In all engagements, the United States has made clear its readiness to lend its support and good offices, should parties seek a ceasefire. Calling on Hamas and other Palestinian groups in Gaza to halt rocket attacks and other provocations, she expressed concern over intercommunal violence in mixed communities. Parties must avoid actions including incitement, violent attacks, evictions — notably in East Jerusalem — and settlement construction east of the 1967 lines, as well as uphold the historic status quo of the holy sites. Once the fighting subsides, familiar questions will arise over how to rebuild communities, alleviate the suffering of civilians in Gaza and focus on the needs of people in the region, especially for justice. Prolonged violence will make these questions more difficult to solve and place the two-State solution further out of reach. It is critical that all parties return to working in good faith towards the vision of Israel and a Palestinian State living in peace, within secure and recognized borders in which both peoples equally enjoy freedom and prosperity.

Sergey Vershinin, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, decisively condemned the use of force and violence against civilians in Israel and Palestine. The armed confrontation must end. He pointed to efforts by his country’s leaders aimed at achieving that goal, citing discussions with the Secretary-General and high-level contacts with regional and international partners in that context. The escalation stems from the absence of a direct negotiation process through which Israelis and Palestinians are meant to work out all final status issues. He called on all parties to respect the status quo of holy sites, notably in East Jerusalem, and to consider their highly sensitive nature. He condemned attempts to change the demographic character of East Jerusalem as null and void, stressing that the priority must be to a ceasefire and to stop the bloodshed. Parties must comply with international humanitarian law. They must protect civilians as well as infrastructure used by journalists and the media. The issue of protecting medical personnel deserves particular attention. Conditions must be created to launch peaceful Palestinian-Israeli dialogue, based on resolutions and the principle of two States living side by side in peace and security. This requires the rejection of settlement activities, home destructions, evictions of Arab people from their ancestral homes and provocations of violence. He strongly reaffirmed the international legal framework for meeting Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for their own independent State and Israel’s interests in ensuring its security. The Middle East Quartet meanwhile must convene a ministerial meeting, he said, drawing attention to a proposal by Moscow to also hold a ministerial meeting with leading regional States. Its proposal to convene Palestinians, Israelis and Russian Federation officials also remains in force. Further, the Russian Federation, along with Egypt and others, will continue to aid Palestinian political forces in efforts to restore national unity, according to the Palestinian Liberation Organization platform. For its part, the Security Council must respond to the crisis, he said, stressing that its members are united on the need to end the conflict, strictly observe international humanitarian law, end the harm to civilians and to relaunch a political process and achieve the two-State solution. Direct dialogue should be carried out with the Middle East Quartet as the only recognized international mechanism for supporting the peace process.

The representative of Estonia, strongly condemning the indiscriminate firing of around 3,000 rockets from Gaza by Hamas and other militant groups against Israeli civilians, said Israel has a legitimate right for self-defence against such attacks, but must ensure proportionality of these actions, in line with international humanitarian law. The increasing number of civilian casualties on both sides is highly alarming, she said, joining the Secretary-General in reminding parties to avoid indiscriminate targeting of civilian and media structures. The status quo of the holy sites must be respected. She called upon the political, community and religious leaders of both sides to make all efforts to calm the situation, which has a potential to escalate into full-scale war. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has lasted already too long, she said, reiterating that the solution to it can be through meaningful negotiations only. Calling on all parties to refrain from taking any unilateral steps that undermine this objective, she welcomed mediating efforts, strong calls on the actors to de-escalate the situation and this open debate, calling for the Council’s continued active engagement to address the situation.

The representative of Viet Nam, condemning indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians, especially against children, said ongoing serious violations of international humanitarian law are unacceptable. Reiterating a call on Israel to stop using excessive force, he urged all parties to immediately put an end to all acts of violence and refrain from any action and rhetoric that could further complicate the situation. It is imperative that the status quo of the holy sites in East Jerusalem be upheld and respected. On the humanitarian front, 2 million people in Gaza have been living in dire conditions even before the current violence. Now, thousands are fleeing their homes to find shelter in UNRWA schools, amidst soaring cases of COVID-19. An already strained health-care system now faces the impossible task of tending to the mounting number of people wounded in attacks. Expressing appreciation for UNRWA efforts, he raised concerns about shortages, from fuel to water. He urged all parties, especially Israel, to respect international humanitarian law and exercise maximum restraint to minimize harm and avoid casualties among civilians. Recalling that Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world, he said all necessary measures must be taken to ensure the security, safety and legitimate interests of civilians and to avoid attacking or destroying objects indispensable to their survival. As the situation is on the brink of all-out war, he called on international and regional actors to double their efforts to avoid the scenario of the recurrence of the 2014 catastrophic war. The ongoing crisis underscores the urgent need for a just, comprehensive and sustainable settlement of the longest-running conflict in the world’s contemporary history.

The representative of Mexico expressed his delegation’s deep consternation over the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, deplored the deaths of civilians and rejected any act that jeopardizes their security — whether they be Palestinian or Israeli. Despite the extreme situation on the ground, “this Council has remained unable to speak out” and is failing at one of its main responsibilities as a leading guarantor of international peace and security. Members must urgently speak with one voice, he said, calling for the protection of civilians and a return to dialogue by the parties as the only viable way forward. He went on to condemn the use of force by Israeli forces against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza, as well as Hamas’ strikes launched into Israel. Rejecting all attempts to alter Jerusalem’s character, he noted that Sheikh Jarrah and adjacent neighbourhoods are located in occupied territory, and their status must be respected under international law. Concluding, he reiterated Mexico’s support for a two-State solution in which Israel and Palestine are able to co-exist peacefully. To that end, the Council must pronounce itself as soon as possible in an unequivocal and balanced way, he said.

The representative of Kenya, reiterating support for diplomatic negotiations to achieve a two-State solution, said the current escalating violence threatens to reverse progress towards that goal. Concerned that the current violence will fan extremism and hatred, leading to the further erosion of the moderate middle ground required for peace and security, he condemned violent rioting and the exploitation of such popular anger by extremist groups. He also condemned rocket launches from Gaza against civilian targets in Israel and deplored police and military action that escalates rather than de-escalates the situation and leads to loss of life and destruction of infrastructure. Authorities must embrace de-escalation, protect lives and avoid destroying civilian infrastructure. At the same time, the agreed status quo on Jerusalem must be respected. “This dark moment is an invitation for a new vision of the future,” he said, calling for an immediate ceasefire and cessation of violence as the first step to a renewed push for peace. Strongly encouraged by the respective national authorities’ efforts to engage with the Special Coordinator and the Special Envoys of the Middle East Quartet, he commended regional and bilateral initiatives and urged all neighbouring and nearby States to join this cause. In this vein, he called for community leaders, the business community and civil society in Israel and Palestine to be heard speaking up for ceasefire and dialogue.

The representative of the United Kingdom, stressing that this week has seen the worst violence Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory have experienced for several years, reiterated Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call that both sides must step back from the brink and show restraint. “This cycle of violence must end,” she said, raising concerns that the current trajectory in Gaza will only lead to further violence and more civilian casualties. Commending the continued efforts by the United Nations, Egypt and Qatar to broker a ceasefire and improve the humanitarian situation, she urged parties to work with mediators, cease hostilities and prevent further humanitarian impact. Condemning acts of terrorism by Hamas and other terrorist groups, she also said that while Israel has a right to self-defence, it must avoid civilian casualties, expressing grave concern about United Nations reports of the destruction or damage of medical installations, 23 schools and over 500 houses in Gaza. Israel’s actions must be proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law. Noting that this special session of the Council is convening during the holy days of Eid and approaching the Jewish festival of Shavuot, she said violence against peaceful worshippers is unacceptable and must stop. The United Kingdom opposes evictions, demolitions and the settlement enterprise. Settlements are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace, she said, urging Israel to cease its policies related to settlement expansion immediately and to instead work towards the establishment of a Palestinian State along 1967 lines. The situation on the ground demonstrates the urgent need to make progress towards peace, she said, urging all sides to show maximum restraint and refrain from taking actions which endanger civilians and make peace more difficult. “These next hours and days are critical,” she said, adding that the United Kingdom will continue to do all it can to bring an end to this violence and work towards a more peaceful future, for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

The representative of India condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza, which targets the civilian population in Israel, as well as the retaliatory strikes into Gaza which have caused immense suffering and deaths. Noting that India also lost one national living in Israel — a caregiver in the town of Ashkelon — amid the rocket fire, he reiterated his strong condemnation of all acts of violence, provocation, incitement and destruction. “Immediate de-escalation is the need of the hour,” he said, calling for swift efforts to prevent “any further slide towards the brink”. Urging both sides to exercise extreme restraint, desist from actions that exacerbate tensions and refrain from attempts to unilaterally change the existing status quo — including in East Jerusalem — he said the holy city has a special place in the hearts of countless people around the world, including Indians who visit every year. He also voiced support for the diplomatic efforts of the Middle East Quartet and other members of the international community, especially countries of the region, to calm the situation, put an end to violence and achieve durable peace in line with a two-State solution.

The representative of Niger said the latest news from the Occupied Palestinian Territory indicates a move even further away from the goal of a two-State solution. Efforts to evict Palestinian families from their homes during Ramadan, as well as recent police raids carried out by Israeli forces, risk plunging the parties deeper into conflict. Civilians on both sides must be protected, irrespective of their race, origins or religion, in line with international law. Describing reported air strikes against the Shati refugee camp in Gaza as unacceptable, he called for an immediate end to such violations of international law and for those responsible to be held to account. Israelis, but also Palestinians — who have been enduring the effects of occupation for decades — both have the right to defend themselves. Describing it as illogical to expect people living under the yoke of occupation to merely sit back and resign themselves to their fate, he said the real solution lies in compelling Israel to finally halt its occupation of the Palestinian territory. Praising international efforts to bring the parties back to the negotiating table, he went on to warn of an increased risk of spreading the coronavirus, as civilians are understandably more concerned with avoiding air strikes than with observing social distancing measures. Meanwhile, Israel and Egypt should urgently open their crossing points into Gaza to allow for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, he said.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said the painstaking quest for peace in the Middle East is gravely imperilled by the present Israeli military campaign. Recent days have seen the most severe outbreak of violence since the 2014 war against Gaza, and the Council — as a matter of principle and of morality, and international law — must not remain silent. Emphasizing that the organ’s legitimacy is at risk, she welcomed international efforts to de-escalate tensions while unequivocally condemning the air strikes that targeted Gaza’s civilian population, killing over 140 people. The occupying Power must cease its military aggression against Palestinians, and those responsible for breaching international law by targeting civilians should be held to account, she said, also voicing concern over the potential eviction of Palestinians from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem, including in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods. “The right to self-defence cannot cloak the wrongs of a party that fired the first shots and is using military capabilities far beyond that of the weaker party,” she stressed, pointing out that Palestinians have neither shelters nor protection against such strikes. “This Council is their only protection,” she said, adding: “We are failing them”.

The representative of France expressed support for two States living in peace and security within secure and recognized borders along 4 June 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as a shared capital, in accordance with relevant Council resolutions. France had expressed its concerns early on, in April, amid tensions in Jerusalem, and pointed to the risks of continued settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem. “Escalation creates risk of a major conflict, with unforeseeable regional repercussions,” he said, stressing that everything possible must be done to immediately end the hostilities. He said France is particularly worried about the high number of civilian casualties on both sides and strongly condemns rocket fire by Hamas against Israel, contravening international humanitarian law. “France will never compromise on Israel’s security,” he emphasized, recognizing Israel’s right to self-defence, which must be exercised with utmost restraint, in strict compliance with international law and international humanitarian law. He expressed grave concern about civilians in Gaza, calling on all parties to ensure aid access and to protect media and humanitarian personnel. All provocative statements and calls to violence must stop. Measures to restore calm in Jerusalem must prevail, including respect for the 1967 status quo of holy sites and ending evictions of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem, including Sheikh Jarrah. “We condemn settlement activity in all its forms,” he assured. Similarly, rockets from southern Lebanon and Syria are particularly worrying, he said, pointing to the risks of escalation in northern Israel. For its part, France has stepped up its engagement with relevant stakeholders. President Emmanuel Macron held talks with Israel’s Prime Minister and the Palestinian President to facilitate a return to ceasefire in Gaza and to restore calm in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Furthermore, President Macron will hold talks with the President of Egypt in the coming days. France’s Minster for Europe and Foreign Minister meanwhile has spoken with his Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian counterparts. Expressing full support to all ongoing mediation efforts, notably by Egypt, he underscored the urgency of relaunching the peace process by promoting resumed negotiations between the parties. Rebuilding trust is the goal of France’s efforts, along with Germany, Egypt and Jordan, and of the meeting organized in Paris on 11 March. “The Security Council must unite to launch a unanimous call for a swift cessation of hostilities,” he stressed. “This is our only priority today and it is our collective responsibility.”

The representative of Algeria, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said the Council is meeting amid Israel’s attacks on the lives and property of Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem, including its aggression aimed at displacing Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, attacks against the faithful at Al-Aqsa Mosque, and continued bombing in Gaza, which has killed hundreds. The Palestinian question remains the central issue of concern: occupied East Jerusalem — the capital of the State of Palestine — is an integral part of Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. Citing resolution 8660 adopted by the Council of the League of Arab States on 11 May, he said Palestinians generally, and Jerusalem inhabitants in particular, have been subjected to a violent campaign throughout Ramadan to the “deafening silence” of the international community, which has enabled the occupying Power to pursue its settlement building. He expressed the Group’s firm condemnation of Israel’s crimes, especially those that have affected Christian and Muslim holy sites and undermined the right to freedom of religion and belief. He likewise condemned the excessive force against Gaza, calling any attempt to present the perpetrators as victims “unacceptable.” The escalation stems from a strategy by the occupying Power aimed at preventing the creation of a sovereign Palestinian State, he said, citing the postponement of elections in Jerusalem as an example. Condemning Israel’s violation of United Nations resolutions, international law and international humanitarian law, he called on the Security Council to shoulder its legal, moral and humanitarian responsibilities to help immediately end the aggression and provide protection to Palestinians, while also maintaining peace in the region. The historic legal status in Jerusalem, including of Al-Aqsa Mosque, must be preserved, he said, underscoring the importance of the Hashemite wardship over holy sites, the only authority to exercise custodianship. He underscored the importance of the Al-Quds Committee, led by Morocco, in defence of the holy city, and efforts by Bayt al-mal affiliated with it. Various practical measures must be taken to achieve a ceasefire. He called on the Council to exercise all possible diplomatic means to end the illegal practices of the occupying Power, noting that the Arab Group has worked with Egypt and Jordan to advance negotiations. The ceasefire is the first stage to be followed by serious commitment from all parties, in particular the Middle East Quartet, he said, calling on that grouping to play a more significant role, working alongside the Secretary-General to answer the request by President Abbas to convene an international conference to launch a peace process.

Maged Abdelfattah Abdelaziz, Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States, associating himself with the Arab Group, said an objective assessment of the multilateral world order is required with a view to effectively addressing current hostilities. In particular, the Council must play its role. However, the Council must answer critical questions, including whether or not civilian protection rules apply to the Palestinian people as they do to Israeli settlers that flagrantly violate Security Council resolutions. The current situation warrants the Council and Secretary-General to invoke the responsibility to protect, he said, wondering whether sanctions are only exclusively reserved to a number of African countries. Indeed, Israel continues to violate Council resolutions and to attack Palestine and its people, using a manufactured spiral of violence to capture more Palestinian lands and to implement plans that have already been rejected by Arab States in the region. Raising concerns about the Council’s disregard of these issues, as well as forthcoming elections, he wondered about the 15-member organ’s position on protecting civilians at holy sites and on the notion of a free press. Going forward, he said negotiations between Israel and Palestine are essential, and such attacks as those seen in 2008 and 2014 will never bring about peace. Only an agreed-upon process can result in a comprehensive, just and lasting peace and the establishment of an independent State of Palestine. In this vein, he called on the United States to engage more actively in the peace process in a manner that would dispel notions displayed during the previous Administration. Recalling United States President William J. Clinton’s efforts in 2000 to resolve final status issues, he said only one outstanding issue — Jerusalem — must be addressed. The United States must now pursue this brave endeavour to reach a breakthrough in peace talks, he said, pledging the League’s support for these and other efforts. Calling on the international community to take action towards the two-State solution, he said direct negotiations remain the only path forward. Both parties must commit to an immediate ceasefire, he said, commending such related efforts as Egypt’s initiative.

For information media. Not an official record.