UN chief urges immediate cessation of hostilities in Gaza

Security Council agreement proves elusive due to resistance from United States

United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres virtually addressed the UN Security Council on Sunday. Video: UN

 

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres urged all parties in the deepening Israeli-Palestinian conflict to respect international law, as he denounced the latest violence in the region as “appalling”.

Amid no signs of the week-long conflict abating, the UN Security Council met in emergency session on Sunday, but a joint statement remained out of reach due to resistance from the United States, Israel’s most steadfast ally on the council.

Further meetings of the council are expected in the coming week.

Opening Sunday’s meeting, which was addressed by the Palestinian foreign minister and Israel’s ambassador to the United States , Mr Guterres said the events of the past week were “the most serious escalation in Gaza and Israel in years”.

“The fighting must stop. It must stop immediately,” he said, while adding that the only way forward “is to return to negotiations with the goal of a two-state solution, with two states living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states”.

His comments were echoed by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who told the meeting “the world is watching”. Ireland currently as a seat on the Security Council.

“The last week is the latest tragic cycle in a conflict whose recurrence shames all of us at the United Nations and as an international community,” Mr Cpoveney said.

While calling on all sides to refrain from violent and provocative acts, he said Israel “must abide by the provisions of international humanitarian law”, and added: “Ireland calls on Israel to ensure that its security forces act in full respect for the principles of proportionality, distinction and precaution in the conduct of military operations. Accountability must be ensured for the actions of the Israeli security forces.”

US criticised

Tor Wennesland, the UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East, updated participants on the situation in the region, warning that the humanitarian and security situation in Gaza was “more dire by the day”.

China, which chaired the meeting as it holds the monthly presidency of the council, criticised the United States for twice blocking a joint statement last week.  

“China has been working with relevant countries on a Security Council press statement. Regrettably, due to the obstruction of one country, the Security Council hasn’t been able to speak as one voice,” Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said.

“We call upon the US to shoulder its dual responsibilities, take a just position and together with the international community to support the Security Council in easing the situation and building toward a political settlement.”

Palestinian foreign minister Riad Malki said there were “no words that can describe the horrors our people are enduring”.

“Israel is killing Palestinians in Gaza, one family at a time. Israel is trying to uproot Palestinians from Jerusalem, expelling families, one home, one neighbourhood at a time. Israel is persecuting our people, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some may not want to use these words, but they know they are true,” he said.

But Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the UN, Gilad Erdan, defended his country’s actions, accusing Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza, of “deliberately using civilians as human shields”. He said Hamas had built a web of underground tunnels under hospitals and homes, with the “clear strategic goal of increasing the number of Palestinian civilian casualties when Israel is forced to respond”.

US engagement

The meeting took place as the Biden administration in the US continued to engage with powerbrokers in the region including Jordan and Egypt. It has also sent a senior state department official to Israel.

President Joe Biden, who has highlighted Israel’s right to defend itself in public statements last week, spoke to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken, who embarked on a trip to Denmark, Greenland and Iceland on Sunday, also spoke to the president of the Associated Press on Saturday following the demolition of the news organisation’s headquarters in Gaza by Israeli forces.

“The secretary offered his unwavering support for independent journalists and media organisations around the world and noted the indispensability of their reporting in conflict zones,” the state department said in a statement. “He expressed relief that the Associated Press team on the ground in Gaza remains safe.”