TO ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD
Briefing the 15-member body, Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that the intensification of violence that the United Nations had been attempting to head off was becoming a reality in and around Gaza. The crisis was the result of a collective failure to advance a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said, urging the international community to assume its responsibility to restore a serious prospect of a two-State solution, while warning against “temporary fixes”.
He expressed the Secretary-General’s concern that the escalation would increase the already “appalling death toll” among Gazan civilians. Israel had legitimate security concerns, he said, condemning the indiscriminate rockets fired from Gaza, numbering more than 2,000 since 8 July, with more than half striking Israel. At the same time, he was shocked at Israel’s response, which had claimed the lives of hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including four children on a beach in Gaza City and three more children yesterday.
A ceasefire was indispensable and urgent, he said, adding that unless the root causes of the escalation were addressed, “this dreadful violence” would return again and again. Offering a prescription once calm was restored, he urged an end to weapons smuggling and to the blockade, as well as returning Gaza to “one Government”. He warned: “We cannot return to the status quo ante — a concern which Palestinians and Israelis share.”
He called on all parties to bring an immediate end to indiscriminate firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and Israeli retaliatory action. Civilians must be protected, as well as the integrity of United Nations premises, and humanitarian aid should be allowed to reach all in need. At the same time, he cautioned that the “bigger picture” not be forgotten, highlighting, in particular, impacts on Lebanon and the potential grave danger to stability in the Golan.
The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine emphasized that the Palestinian Authority had engaged continuously in efforts to secure a comprehensive ceasefire, yet Israel had continued to wage war with the massive ground invasion of the Gaza strip, which was now threatening the safety of the entire Palestinian civilian population.
He called on the Security Council, once again, to uphold its Charter duties and implement its resolutions regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Council should adopt a resolution condemning Israeli military aggression in Gaza and ensuring the lifting of the blockade and the protection of the Palestinian people. Should the Council fail to respond to those appeals, “we would have no recourse but to turn to the judicial bodies of the United Nations and the international system”.
Israel’s representative told the Council: “We did everything in our power to avoid this.” In the face of the attacks, his country had been “left with no choice” but to have the Israel Defense Forces enter Gaza, he said, adding that the Prime Minister had accepted every ceasefire offered, even while the country was under attack. Despite that, Hamas had rejected every overture.
The Israel Defense Forces were fighting in Gaza, but they were not fighting the people of Gaza, he emphasized, adding that the army was operating against only terrorist targets and genuinely regretted any civilian loss of life. In the nine years since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas had fired rockets “each and every month”. When Israel informed the international community of the thousands of rockets being smuggled into Gaza by Hamas, it had been met with silence.
Speakers around the room called for a ceasefire between the parties and a return to the negotiating table. Nigeria’s representative warned that “violence begets violence”, making political solutions impossible. France’s delegate urged both Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces to cease fire, as civilians were bearing the brunt of the attacks. “More war will not bring more security,” said the representative of Luxembourg, adding “it will only bring more tragedy”.
Also speaking were representatives of Jordan, United States, China, Australia, Chile, Lithuania, United Kingdom, Chad, Russian Federation, Argentina, Republic of Korea and Rwanda.
The meeting began at 3:10 p.m. and ended at 5:10 p.m.
JEFFREY FELTMAN, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that the intensification of violence that the United Nations had been attempting to head off was becoming a reality in and around Gaza. It was more dismaying that signs of hope had been emerging for a ceasefire, which Egypt had been brokering. Following a temporary pause, militants had resumed firing projectiles from the Gaza Strip “frustrating our hopes” of a de-escalation. Shortly after those firings, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the launch of a ground operation into Gaza. Four ground incursions had been conducted, accompanied by some 90 airstrikes, mostly within the access-restricted areas. The Israel Defense Forces also fired some 357 tank shells, while their Navy fired 150 shells. Militants had fired some 127 rockets and 29 mortar shells at Israel. Approximately 20 Palestinian houses had been hit, 26 Palestinians had been killed and another 116 injured. One Israeli soldier had been killed.
He expressed the Secretary-General’s concern that the escalation would increase the already “appalling death toll” among Gazan civilians. He noted that Israel had legitimate security concerns, condemning the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza, but he was alarmed at Israel’s heavy response. The Secretary-General was also shocked by the Israeli strike that killed four children on a beach in Gaza City on 16 July, as well as the killing of three more children yesterday. The violence must end, he stressed.
Since 8 July, he continued, more than 2,000 rockets had been fired from Gaza into Israel with 1,100 of them striking Israel and hundreds intercepted by the Iron Dome. Two Israelis had been killed, including one civilian. Twelve Israeli soldiers and 365 Israeli civilians had been injured. During the same period, some 261 Palestinians, a majority of them civilians, including at least 48 women and more than 50 children, had been killed and more than 1,600 injured as a result of some 1,900 Israeli strikes on Gaza from land, air and sea. Additionally, more than 1,800 Palestinian’s homes had been destroyed or damaged.
Based on the understanding of November 2012, there was a humanitarian pause, which would have helped Egypt facilitate a ceasefire. Although Israel had accepted the Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire, Hamas had tabled counter-proposals that were not acceptable to Israel. The Palestinian Authority had also expressed its support of a ceasefire and President Mahmoud Abbas had been engaged with both regional and world leaders in an appeal to end the crisis, meeting yesterday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in Cairo. Both Presidents had agreed on the necessity of an immediate ceasefire and on the urgency of holding a donors’ conference to start rebuilding the Gaza Strip.
President Abbas, he reported, had also indicated that in the event of a ceasefire, he would be willing to redeploy Palestinian Authority forces along the Philadelphi Corridor between Gaza and Egypt for the reopening of the Rafah border crossing under their supervision. That would be a key component of bringing Gaza back under one legitimate Palestinian Government. President Abbas had also written to the Secretary-General requesting that Palestine be placed under an international protection system administered by the Organization.
He called on all parties to bring an immediate end to indiscriminate firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and Israeli retaliatory action, and to ensure the protection of civilians and the integrity of United Nations premises. The placing of approximately 20 rockets in a vacant school in Gaza of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was a flagrant violation of its premises’ inviolability. A ceasefire was indispensable and urgent. The Agency had been providing shelter for around 48,000 Gazans who had nowhere to flee following warnings by the Israel Defense Forces. However, the Agency’s resources were being stretched thin. The root causes must be addressed. “We cannot return to the status quo ante — a concern which Palestinians and Israelis share,” he said.
Since the Security Council’s 9 July meeting on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), he said, at least 11 rockets had been launched from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) towards Israel in five separate incidents, between 11 and 18 July. In addition, the Lebanese Armed Forces had found and dismantled two rockets set to launch towards Israel. Israeli forces had retaliated on all occasions firing across the Blue Line. The Interim Force, in coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces, was maintaining an enhanced operational presence on the ground. Turning to the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria, he noted that, among several incidents of engagement, explosions and rockets from the Bravo side had impacted the Alpha side, leading to return fire by Israeli forces.
“While we focus on Gaza today, we must not forget the bigger picture,” he said. The escalation in Gaza had repercussions in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, with clashes occurring among demonstrators on both sides. Restrictions had been placed this morning on Palestinian access to the holy places in the Old City. The situation on the ground was ultimately the result of a collective failure to advance a political solution to the conflict. Temporary fixes would no longer do, he said, urging the international community to assume its responsibility to restore a “serious prospect” for a two-State solution and bring an end to the decades-long conflict and occupation. That was the only way to make a ceasefire last, break the endless cycle of attack and retaliation and ensure a durable peace for generations of Palestinians and Israelis alike. The Secretary-General would leave for the region tomorrow to express solidarity with Israelis and Palestinians and, in coordination with regional and international actors, help work towards ending the violence and finding a way forward.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, said that while the Palestinian Authority had engaged continuously in efforts to secure a comprehensive ceasefire, Israel had continued to wage war on the Palestinian people, with the massive ground invasion of the Gaza strip now threatening the safety of the entire Palestinian civilian population. Hundreds had been killed, the majority of which he maintained were women and children, and homes and infrastructure had been destroyed, displacing thousands of families. It could not be justified by any means. Listing the names and ages of some of the dead, he said war crimes, crimes against humanity and systematic human rights violations were being committed by Israel.
He called on the Security Council once again to uphold its Charter duties and act forthwith to implement its resolutions regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and on protection of civilians and children in armed conflict. Should the Council fail to respond to those appeals, “we would have no recourse but to turn to the judicial bodies of the United Nations and the international system”, he said. He called on the Council to adopt a resolution that condemned Israeli military aggression in Gaza and demanded its immediate cessation, the lifting of the Israeli blockade and the protection of the Palestinian people, since Israel, the occupying Power, had clearly forfeited its legal obligation to do so. He appealed to the international community to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to Gaza.
RON PROSOR ( Israel) said that, in the face of attacks, kidnapping and jihadist activities, his country had been “left with no choice” but to have the Israel Defense Forces enter Gaza to restore a sustained calm there while degrading Hamas’s capabilities. “We did everything in our power to avoid this,” he said, noting that Prime Minister Netanyahu had accepted every ceasefire offered, even while Israel was under attack. Despite that, Hamas had rejected every overture; Israel “faces an enemy who lives by violence and celebrates death”. The Israel Defense Forces were fighting in Gaza, but they were not fighting the people of Gaza. “ Israel ceases and Hamas fires,” he said, calling on the international community to “stand now with Israel” to prevent the next barrage of rockets, kidnappings and suicide attacks and, once and for all, remove the “threat of terrorism casting a dark shadow on the people of Israel”. His country had shown great restraint in the face of unrestrained aggression. During recent ceasefires, Hamas had continued to defiantly fire rockets at Israel and had sent heavily armed terrorists through tunnels towards the Kibbutz Sufa. “No country in the world would tolerate such an assault on its citizens,” he stressed.
He said the Israeli army did not “aspire” to harm any innocent people; it was operating only against terrorist targets and genuinely regretted any civilian loss of life. At the same time, there was “no line Hamas will not cross”, no depth to which they would not sink, no site off-limits. Hamas was storing weapons in family homes and establishing headquarters in hospitals. UNRWA said yesterday it had found missiles in the basement of a school. Hamas was targeting Israeli citizens while hiding behind Palestinian civilians. How many more Palestinians must fall before President Abbas, who was President of a unity Government that included a “murderous terror group”, would finally break his partnership with Hamas? In the nine years since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas had fired rockets “each and every month”. When Israel informed the international community of the thousands of rockets being smuggled into Gaza by Hamas, it had been met with silence; it was time it faced the consequences of its inaction. Israel wanted to live in peace, but it was being forced to wage a war against a terrorist group committed to its destruction.
EIHAB OMAISH ( Jordan) said he had called for this meeting on behalf of the Arab Group. He rejected and condemned, in the strongest terms, what he described as Israel’s aggression in Gaza, which he said had caused hundreds to become martyrs. He asked how the world could be so unmoved by the death of children, calling on Israel to immediately end military operations, withdraw from the Gaza Strip and stop targeting civilians anywhere. In that light, he supported the Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire. Jordan had increased the capacity of its health facilities for the wounded in Gaza and sought more humanitarian aid for the residents of the enclave. Only a political solution based on an equitable two-State strategy would sustainably end the violence, he stressed.
SAMANTHA POWER ( United States) said she was deeply concerned over the impact of the crisis on both Israeli and Palestinian civilians and cited President Barak Obama’s strong support for Israel’s right to self-defence, as well as his plea to stem the suffering in Gaza by de-escalating the violence. Even though Hamas had squandered efforts to establish a ceasefire, her country was accelerating efforts to end the fighting. She welcomed the humanitarian pause, saying that the situation in Gaza was grave and getting worse. Calling for protection of civilians, she condemned the use of UNRWA schools and other civilian facilities to store weaponry. She also called for the end of rocket fire from Gaza and de-escalation of hostilities. “Too much blood has been shed,” she said.
LIU JIEYI ( China) expressed deep concern at the situation, condemning use of force that resulted in civilian deaths. He urged the parties to immediately cease hostilities and for Israel to remove its troops from Gaza and lift the blockade. He called on the Council to take a strong stand to protect civilians and preserve peace and stability in the Middle East. Both parties must immediately agree to a ceasefire and refrain from action that would again raise tension. His Government was in contact with both parties and would soon send another delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza. The re-emergence of violence there underlined the importance of a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel must create the environment for the resumption and success of those talks.
U. JOY OGWU ( Nigeria) said that despite the calls from around the world for a de-escalation of the violence, the conflict had worsened. Israel’s response must be proportionate and in concert to international law. The killing of women and children was unconscionable. Hamas must also cease its attacks, as “violence begets violence”, making political solutions impossible. Leaders on both sides must show restraint and the international partners must do everything possible to forge a return to negotiations, which was the only way to a sustainable peace. The doors to a diplomatic solution must remain open towards a two-State solution.
GÉRARD ARAUD ( France) pointed out that the current violence had not been unprecedented. Each and every time conflict broke out it was the inhabitants who were caught between the rockets and the firing. History in the meantime kept repeating itself, as a deadly spiral continued, with peace more and more unattainable. The Council’s priority should be to obtain a ceasefire, and his country’s Foreign Affairs Minister was in the region to support that goal. Hamas rockets must stop, as must the strikes by the Israel Defense Forces, as civilians were bearing the brunt of those attacks. Paying tribute to the many humanitarian agencies in the regions, which were discharging a “holy mission”, he said Gaza should not be a base to destroy Israel, nor should it be a prison. He called for an immediate ceasefire and for parties to accept the Quartet’s recommendations. Because “misery swells the ranks of Hamas”, he also called for the lifting of the blockade. Meaning must be restored to the political process, and Europeans, Arabs, and Americans must, side by side, assist parties to transcend their fears. Twenty years of traditional efforts had not worked. New ideas and renewed efforts were needed to help the parties along a path which they were reluctant to take.
PHILIPPA KING ( Australia) called for steps to reduce tensions and to restore peace. She said the decision by Hamas to reject the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire proposals, and the continued firing of rockets indiscriminately into Israel, was “inexcusable”. With that, she urged the parties to find a peaceful resolution. She condemned the murders of three Israeli teenagers and the murder of a Palestinian teenager on 2 July, which had led to the current escalation. She called for restraint from all parties and for an end to the escalation of violence by restoring the November 2012 ceasefire. She urged both Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations towards a just and lasting two-State solution.
CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET ( Chile) deplored the lack of a commitment by the parties to de-escalate the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel. He supported United Nations efforts to facilitate a ceasefire and warned against the targeting of civilians, including children, by both parties, condemning as well the use of schools for storing weaponry.
DAINIUS BAUBLYS ( Lithuania) deplored the growing number of civilian casualties and expressed concern that the violence could increase further. She strongly condemned Hamas’ launching of rockets, as well as the storing of weaponry in schools. Recognizing the right of Israel to defend itself, she stressed, however, that the country must abide strictly by humanitarian law. She urged leaders of both parties to immediately commit to negotiating a ceasefire, and reiterated her country’s support for a two-State solution.
MARK LYALL GRANT ( United Kingdom) called for an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire agreement, with steps taken to address the underlying causes of the conflict. He welcomed the Egyptian initiative in that light, as well as the humanitarian pause and condemned rocket fire at civilian areas. He stressed however, that in exercising its right to self-defence, Israel must take all measures to avoid civilian casualties. He also called for unhindered humanitarian access to Gaza, noting his Government’s strong support for UNRWA. As part of a ceasefire, a viable verification and monitoring mission should be considered, and efforts to improve conditions in Gaza should be increased. However, only a negotiated two-State solution could bring about durable peace.
MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF ( Chad) expressed his outrage by the indiscriminate violence and called on Israel to stop all ground and air offences aimed at schools, civilians and hospitals. He urged Palestinians to cease all attacks against Israel, including rocket firing across borders. After decades on the United Nations agenda, there had been no hope of settling the Palestinian question. The situation was dangerous to the region and the world, and the Council must act firmly and swiftly to put an end to the violence and create the conditions necessary for peace. With the Gaza blockade thwarting economic activities and fuelling an almost 50 per cent unemployment rate, the Palestinian population was marginalized and living in poverty. How then could they believe in something called a peace process? The situation was a threat to international peace and security and dialogue must be re-engaged for a fair lasting peace based on a two-State solution. Israel should not use inter-Palestinian issues to undermine the process.
VITALY I. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) called for an end to the armed conflict as the victims were increasingly civilian women and children. It was also alarming to hear reports of Israel’s attacks on hospitals and residential housing. International and humanitarian law called for demilitarizing civilian areas, yet Hamas also had been found to be utilizing schools for military purposes and to fire on residential parts of Israel. He backed Egypt’s initiative, which could be the basis for a truce and ceasefire by both parties. Gaza must be under a single unified Government, as called for in Security Council resolutions. The Quartet also needed to step up its efforts and design solutions elaborated jointly with the Arabs to ensure they were part of the solution.
SYLVIE LUCAS ( Luxembourg) said the crisis represented one of the greatest diplomatic failures. “More war will not bring more security. It will only bring more tragedy,” she stated, recounting the recent killing of several young boys on the beach in Gaza. Israel had the right to protect itself from rockets, but its actions should be proportionate and protect civilians. The recent death toll, including so many women and children, was shocking. All parties were fully obligated to protect civilians trapped by the hostilities; that applied to Hamas as well. Noting the 20 rockets found in a school in Gaza, she stressed that it was unconscionable to play with the lives of children in that way. All international efforts should focus on the cessation of the hostilities, she said, calling on all parties to cease fire and voicing support for Egypt’s initiative, as well as for the Secretary-General’s upcoming visit to the region.
MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL ( Argentina) firmly condemned the fact that the Council’s calls for peace had been disregarded, that a ground offensive had begun and that rocket fire continued into Israel. She urged both parties to support Egypt’s efforts to negotiate an immediate and lasting ceasefire. Conditions underpinning the conflict must be then dealt with, including improvement in the conditions in Gaza and consolidation of one political voice for the Palestinians. Genuine negotiations according to internationally agreed parameters must become a priority again. Her country was committed to help the Council fulfil its responsibilities in that context. Deeming the leaders on both sides responsible for this tragic situation, she stressed that impunity must not prevail.
OH JOON ( Republic of Korea) expressed deep concern over the accelerating turmoil in the Middle East and its effect on civilians on both sides. He condemned indiscriminate rocket attacks into Israel and at the same time was alarmed by the increasing toll on Palestinian civilians. The humanitarian situation was also dire; in that context, he commended the work of UNRWA and welcomed the humanitarian pause. He called for maximum restraint from both sides and redoubled efforts to negotiate an immediate ceasefire. He affirmed that the only long-term solution to the violence was a negotiated two-State solution.
EUGÈNE-RICHARD GASANA (Rwanda), speaking in his national capacity and recalling Council action over the past month on violence in the Middle East, said unfortunately the parties on the ground had not heeded those calls. He urged more humanitarian pauses and expressed strong support for the Egyptian ceasefire agreement. Hamas must halt its rocket fire and Israel must exercise maximum restraint. For a long-term solution, he called on the Quartet and the rest of the international community to redouble efforts for a negotiated two-State peace.