The current “senseless” cycle of violence in the Middle East must end now, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in an address to the Security Council on Sunday morning.
Describing the hostilities as “utterly appalling”, the Secretary-General warned that hopes of coexistence and peace between Palestinians and Israelis are being pushed even farther to the horizon.
“Fighting must stop. It must stop immediately,” he said. “Rockets and mortars on one side and aerial and artillery bombardments on the other must stop. I appeal to all parties to heed this call.”
The virtual Council meeting, which was attended by several Foreign Ministers as well as ambassadors, was held amid the most serious escalation in Gaza and Israel in years. Clashes have also broken out across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Region at risk
The Secretary-General feared the violence could have devastating far-reaching consequences.
“The fighting risks dragging Israelis and Palestinians into a spiral of violence with devastating consequences for both communities and for the entire region,” he said.
“It has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism, not only in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole, potentially creating a new locus of dangerous instability,” he said.
The UN chief stressed that the only way forward is to return to negotiations towards a two-State solution, but the fighting is making this goal even more challenging.
He reiterated UN commitment to working with the Israelis and Palestinians, and with international and regional partners, to realize a lasting and just peace.
“This senseless cycle of bloodshed, terror and destruction must stop immediately,” he said.
Death, displacement, destruction
Tor Wennesland, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, outlined the human cost of the deadly escalation between the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza. Preliminary figures show some 181 Palestinians and nine Israelis have been killed, while health authorities in Gaza report 1,200 people have been injured.
The UN envoy added that the humanitarian and security situation in the densely packed Gaza Strip grows increasingly dire by the day.
The embattled health system is already overwhelmed by chronic shortages of medicine and equipment, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, over 34,000 people have been displaced, and more than 40 schools operated by UN agency UNRWA are now serving as shelters.
“As a result of the military operations, seven factories, 40 schools and at least four hospitals sustained complete or partial damage,” he said.
“At least 18 buildings, including four high-rise towers, including one hosting international media outlets, have been destroyed and over 350 buildings damaged. According to the IDF, these buildings contained Hamas military installations.”
Echoing the Secretary-General’s call for immediate de-escalation, Mr Wennesland said the UN is working tirelessly on all sides to restore calm.
“Israelis and Palestinians have a legitimate right to safety and security. The violence we are witnessing now is unacceptable and unjustifiable.”