Amid an escalation of violence in Gaza, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has left for the region today (19 July) to express solidarity with Israelis and Palestinians, and to help bolster regional and international efforts for a solution.
Briefing the Security Council on the latest developments, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said the Secretary-General is “prepared to do his part” to help the parties end the violence and find a way forward.
While Israel has legitimate security concerns, the United Nations “is alarmed by Israel’s heavy response,” said Mr Feltman.
While it was “indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel” that ended yesterday’s five-hour humanitarian pause, he said, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has so far conducted four ground incursions into Gaza and some 90 airstrikes, firing 91 missiles, as well as more than 500 shells.
Palestinians, meanwhile, have fired some 127 rockets and 29 mortar shells at Israel, during the same period.
Since 8 July, when hostilities intensified, two Israelis have been killed, including one civilian, and at least 365 civilians injured. Meanwhile, some 250 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, have been killed, and more than 1,900 civilians were injured in strikes from land, air and sea.
“The Secretary-General is extremely concerned that this escalation will further increase the already appalling death toll among Gazan civilians,” Mr Feltman said.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson last night, the Secretary-General called for an immediate end to the “indiscriminate firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and Israeli retaliatory action.”
He asked the parties to do their utmost to protect civilians and UN premises and staff, and to ensure that humanitarian assistance continues to reach all those in need.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said today that over 47,000 displaced Gazans have taken refuge in its facilities. The overall number of displaced people inside Gaza is likely to be far higher as many people will have taken sanctuary with family and friends.
“We again appeal to the warring parties to respect international humanitarian law obligations towards civilians, humanitarian workers and UN installations. They must exercise maximum restraint at this time of great violence and instability,” said UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness.
Mr Feltman added that the Secretary-General has been “in touch around the clock with world leaders” to facilitate collective action to stop the violence, and was alarmed when fighting resumed after yesterday’s humanitarian pause. The temporary pause in fighting had raised hopes for a long-term ceasefire to be brokered by the Government of Egypt.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met yesterday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo, and both reportedly agreed to the necessity of an immediate ceasefire and the urgency of holding a donors conference to start rebuilding the Gaza Strip, Mr Feltman said.
Ban Ki-moon is currently reviewing a request by Mr Abbas which would place Palestine under an international protection system administered by the UN.
In his briefing, Mr Feltman reiterated the importance of addressing the root causes of the current escalation, with support to durable political, security, institutional and socioeconomic progress to stabilise Gaza. This includes an end to weapons smuggling, the full opening of the crossings, bringing Gaza back under one legitimate Palestinian Government adhering to Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) commitments, and the paying of salaries to tens of thousands of employees working in Gaza after 2007 without payment.
He also stressed the importance of refocusing efforts towards a two-State solution, as the only viable route to end the decades-long conflict in the Middle East.
The impact of the situation in Gaza is also being felt in Lebanon, where the UN Interim Force (UNIFIL), in coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces, has intensified patrols in the area as a result of rockets being launched into Israel. The IDF retaliated in all five of the instances.
The destabilising of the Golan Heights is also a grave danger, Mr Feltman said, with exchanges of fire reported between the Syrian Armed Forces and armed members of the opposition.
The fighting also poses a danger to the wider West Bank, where supporters of both sides have clashed.
“Our appeal stands on the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to defuse tensions and act responsibly,” Mr. Feltman emphasised.