SECRETARY-GENERAL DESCRIBES ‘DEEPLY ALARMING ESCALATION OF VIOLENCE’ IN GAZA, SOUTHERN ISRAEL, TERRIBLE CIVILIAN DEATH TOLL, AS HE BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL

1 March 2008
SC/9266

SECRETARY-GENERAL DESCRIBES ‘DEEPLY ALARMING ESCALATION OF VIOLENCE’ IN GAZA, SOUTHERN ISRAEL, TERRIBLE CIVILIAN DEATH TOLL, AS HE BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL

1 March 2008
Security Council
SC/9266
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5847th Meeting (Night)

SECRETARY-GENERAL DESCRIBES ‘DEEPLY ALARMING ESCALATION OF VIOLENCE’ IN GAZA,

SOUTHERN ISRAEL, TERRIBLE CIVILIAN DEATH TOLL, AS HE BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL

 

Palestine Observer Pleads with Council to Uphold International Law;

Israel Reiterates Determination to Protect Citizens from Hamas’ Terror Attacks

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told an emergency meeting of the Security Council this evening that, since last Wednesday, there had been a “deeply alarming escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel, and a terrible civilian death toll”, and the scenes from Gaza today had been “particularly disturbing”.

He said that, according to press reports, some 117 rockets, including 26 today, had been fired from Gaza at southern Israel, killing one Israeli civilian in Sederot and injuring five others in Ashkelon, including women and children.  Reports and Israeli Government sources had said that rockets fired at Ashkelon were not home-made Qassams, but of advanced Katyusha-like design, allegedly smuggled into Gaza when the border with Egypt had been breached.

The Israel Defense Forces had also launched air and land attacks on Gaza, killing an estimated 90 Palestinians, among them many civilians, and injuring hundreds.  According to United Nations estimates, 59 Palestinians had been killed today, including 39 civilians.  He stressed that there were many conflicting reports on the number of casualties, and those figures were not confirmed.

The Secretary-General placed blame on both sides, calling on them to cease the violence and restore order.  “I condemn Palestinian rocket attacks and call for the immediate cessation of such acts of terrorism, which serve no purpose, endanger Israeli civilians and bring misery to the Palestinian people,” he said.  “While recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself, I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed and injured so many civilians, including children.  Israel must fully comply with international humanitarian law and exercise the utmost constraint.  Incidents in which civilians have been killed or injured must be investigated and accountability must be ensured.”

The Secretary-General also expressed his deep concern that the violence could escalate and impact the negotiation process.  “I call on all parties to step back from the brink of even deeper and more deadly clashes,” he said.  He pledged the United Nations strong support and said he had spoken to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and League of Arab States Secretary-General Amre Moussa.   The international community, important stakeholders and Council members must do their part by exercising their influence on the parties to stop the violence and allow humanitarian relief to reach those in need, he said.

Riyad Mansour, the Permanent Observer of Palestine, stressing that the situation in Gaza was dramatically deteriorating, pleaded with the Council to uphold international law, its own resolutions and the United Nations Charter, as its ongoing paralysis was “wholly unjustifiable”.  The Council’s lack of action had only perpetrated more war crimes against innocent civilians, as evidenced by the past week’s violent events.  The Palestinian death toll in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly the Gaza Strip, was rising rapidly as a result of the “brutal” military assaults carried out by Israel against civilians, he said, noting that, today alone, at least 60 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli military attacks in the northern Gaza Strip.  It had also been reported that more than 150 Palestinians had been wounded by Israeli occupying forces in the latest round of attacks.

“The Council cannot continue to be sidelined as this crisis continues to escalate,” he stressed, adding that the Council must uphold its Charter responsibilities and demand the utmost respect for international humanitarian law, which was to provide innocent civilians with protection in situations of foreign occupation, and condemn the killing of civilians and the violence.  Gaza was barely surviving under conditions of severe duress due to Israel’s unlawful closure of all border crossings, obstruction of humanitarian supplies and lethal military campaign.  Hospitals in Gaza were making all efforts to treat the wounded, but Israeli occupying forces continued to target medical rescue teams.  Despite his delegation’s warnings to the Council, no action had been taken to stem the violence, he said, adding that, since the beginning of February, Israel had killed more than 126 Palestinians.

The international community was “in clear concurrence” about what was needed to advance the process towards a just, lasting and comprehensive peace, he said.  United Nations Special Coordinator and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, Robert Serry, and the Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, had briefed the Council on the critical situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Immediate and real action was needed.  He also highlighted a recent threat by Israel’s Deputy Defence Minister to inflict a “holocaust” among Palestinians in Gaza, saying such threats must be viewed with “utmost seriousness” and be vehemently condemned.

Israel’s representative, Daniel Carmon, told the Council that Israel indeed had the right, as well as the duty, to defend its people and land against Hamas’ “malicious vision”.  More than 250,000 Israeli citizens were in the range of Hamas’ deadly and murderous weapons.  “The Government of Israel should not apologize for protecting its citizens.”  Israel had addressed the situation for a very long time, he said, pointing to the many letters sent this week to the Council, expressing alarm and concern with Hamas’ attacks and reiterating Israel’s determination to protect its people.  “This is our right.  This is the right of all States to act in self-defence, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter,” he said.

He said that, two days ago, the Secretary-General had condemned Hamas’ rocket fire against Israel and called on Hamas and other terrorist and militant groups to cease all acts of violence and terrorism.  The Secretary-General had also called on Israel to exercise maximum constraint.  While Israel had complied with that restraint for many months now, Hamas had shown no intention of ceasing its attacks.  On the contrary, in the past week, since Hamas had failed to organize a provocative demonstration in Gaza, it had dramatically escalated rocket attacks against Israelis, using grad missiles, Katyusha rockets, mortar shells and Qassams.  Since Wednesday, more than 150 rockets had been fired at Israel, dozens in the past 24 hours.

Hamas’ activity could only be described as terrorism, he said.  Hamas was a terrorist group backed by United Nations Member States who denied the very basic principles set by the international community to cease terrorist acts, recognize Israel and abide by previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.  Hamas not only sought to kill Israelis, it had no concern for its own civilians, using them as human shields when firing rockets from populated areas.  Hamas’ true vision was the extermination of the State of Israel and not to live peacefully side by side with Israel, he said, adding that some States in the region, such as Iran, shared that vision.

The meeting started at 8:30 p.m. and adjourned at 9:07 p.m.

Background

The Security Council met this evening on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at the request of Libya (document S/2008/142).

Statements

BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General, said that, since last Wednesday, there had been a “deeply alarming escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel, and a terrible civilian death toll”.  The scenes in Gaza today had been particularly disturbing.  Some 117 rockets had been fired from Gaza at southern Israel, including 26 rockets today.  They had been fired at several civilian centres and had extended as far north as the Israeli city of Ashkelon.  According to press reports and Israeli Government sources, the rockets fired at Ashkelon had not been not home-made Qassams.  Rather, they were rockets of advanced Katyusha-like design, allegedly smuggled into Gaza when the border with Egypt was breached.  One Israeli civilian had been killed in Sederot and five civilians were reported injured in Ashkelon today, including women and children.

During the same period, the Israel Defense Forces had launched attacks from the air and by land on targets in the Gaza Strip, he said.  An estimated 90 Palestinians had been killed, among them many civilians, and hundreds had been injured.  According to United Nations estimates, 59 Palestinians had been killed today, including 39 civilians, among them three women and five minors, including an infant.  He stressed that there were many conflicting reports on the number of casualties, and that those figures were not confirmed.  There had also been heavy property damage.  Israeli land incursions were now occurring near Jabalaya and the northern Gaza Strip.  Two Israeli soldiers were reported to have been killed in the fighting.  The Israel Defense Forces reported that it had destroyed a truck carrying 160 rockets.

United Nations sources reported at least four incidents of Israeli fire against ambulances and medical personnel, he said.  The Palestinian Ministry of Health had issued a call for diesel, in order to operate its ambulances.  All United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools had been closed, and many families were trapped inside their houses by the violence, unable to obtain medical aid or reach safety.  He called on Israel to facilitate full access to hospitals and medical centres for the injured.  He had made clear his concern at the outset of the escalation of violence and had been diplomatically engaged to press for calm.  He had spoken to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and League of Arab States Secretary-General Amre Moussa.  United Nations agencies on the ground, especially UNRWA, were continuing their efforts to assist people in grave distress.

In light of those deeply disturbing developments, “I condemn Palestinian rocket attacks and call for the immediate cessation of such acts of terrorism, which serve no purpose, endanger Israeli civilians and bring misery to the Palestinian people,” he said.  “I call for an end to these attacks.  While recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself, I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed and injured so many civilians, including children.  I call on Israel to cease such attacks,” he said, stressing that “ Israel must fully comply with international humanitarian law and exercise the utmost constraint.  Incidents in which civilians have been killed or injured must be investigated and accountability must be ensured.”

The Secretary-General, expressing his deep concern at the possibility of the violence escalating, said the United Nations had offered its strong support for all efforts to end the violence and bring about a period of calm.  “I call on all parties to step back from the brink of even deeper and more deadly clashes,” he said.  Further, he expressed his extreme concern over the impacts of such developments on the negotiation process.  He called on all members of the international community, important stakeholders and Council members to exercise their influence on the parties to stop the violence and to allow humanitarian relief to reach those in need.  All parties should rededicate their commitment to the peace process, he said.

The Permanent Observer of Palestine, RIYAD H. MANSOUR, said he was here today to plead with the Security Council to uphold international law, its own resolutions and the United Nations Charter, as its ongoing paralysis was “wholly unjustifiable”.  The Council’s lack of action had only led to the perpetration of more war crimes against innocent civilians, as seen in the violent events of the past week.  The Palestinian death toll in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly the Gaza Strip, was rising rapidly as a result of the “brutal” military assaults carried out by Israel against civilians.  The situation was dramatically deteriorating.  Gaza was barely surviving under conditions of severe duress due to Israel’s unlawful closure of all border crossings, obstruction of humanitarian supplies and lethal military campaign.

In flagrant breach of article 33 of the Geneva Convention, relative to the protection of civilians in time of war, Israel continued to punish Palestinian civilians in Gaza by closing the Territory, obstructing the movement of persons and goods, and committing military reprisals, he said.  Such actions were prohibited by international law.  The humanitarian calamity in Gaza continued to deepen as a result of the violence, which threatened to derail the fragile peace process.

Despite his delegation’s warnings to the Council, no action had been taken to stem the violence, he continued, saying that, from the start of February until today, Israel had killed more than 126 Palestinians, including 19 children, some only 2 days old.  There was no justification for killing innocent civilians.  When the slaughter of children was justified under the pretext of promoting security, the international community had sunk into a “dark abyss”, he said.  Surrounded by death, Palestinian children were traumatized by the ever present question: “Will I be next?”

Today alone, at least 60 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli military attacks in the northern Gaza Strip, he said, while it also had been reported that more than 150 Palestinians had been wounded by Israeli occupying forces in the latest round of attacks.  Hospitals in Gaza were making all efforts to treat the wounded.  Israeli occupying forces continued to target medical rescue teams.  Also, many of the Palestinians killed and wounded had been casualties of extrajudicial executions, which also were being carried out in the West Bank.  In the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, Israeli undercover units had killed three Palestinian men.  Such actions were meant to undermine efforts by Palestinian security forces to establish calm.

The killings of Palestinian civilians had not begun with the killing of an Israeli in Sderot by rocket fire from Gaza, he asserted, recalling that reprisals against civilians were strictly prohibited under international law.  The world was witnessing the horrific materialization of repeated threats made by several Israeli officials.  In that context, he highlighted a recent threat by Israel’s Deputy Defence Minister to inflict a “holocaust” among Palestinians in Gaza.  Such threats must be viewed with “utmost seriousness” and be vehemently condemned.

Civilians under foreign occupation were entitled to protection, he continued, adding that there could be no doubt that the acts of aggression committed by Israel in recent days were flagrant violations of humanitarian law.  Real and immediate measures must be taken to avert the killing of even more innocent people and the “uncontrollable spiral” of the situation to irreversible depths.

He said such actions could not serve the peace process.  They served only to fully ignite violence.  That was an indisputable fact.  The peace process was not divorced from the situation on the ground, and the continuation of the vicious cycle would only bring more suffering and loss for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.  That must be a matter of concern for the Council.

The international community was “in clear concurrence” about what was needed to advance the process towards a just, lasting and comprehensive peace, he said.  United Nations Special Coordinator and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, Robert Serry, and the Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, had briefed the Council on the critical situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Immediate and real action was needed.

“The Council cannot continue to be sidelined as this crisis continues to escalate,” he stressed, adding that the Council must uphold its Charter responsibilities and bring an end to the cycle of violence and counter-violence. Moreover, it must demand the utmost respect for international humanitarian law, which was to provide innocent civilians with protection in situations of foreign occupation, and condemn the killing of civilians and the violence.

Against that backdrop, he reiterated his call for the Security Council -- and the international community -- to shoulder the legal and moral obligations to provide Palestinian civilians with effective protection.  He also urged an immediate ceasefire in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and tangible action to end the violence.  The Council must help parties advance the new strategy called for to immediately halt the violence, resolve the crisis and create an environment conducive to advancing serious peace negotiations in good faith.  Continued silence would only bring more death and further destabilize the situation to the detriment of all concerned.

DANIEL CARMON (Israel) said that, two days ago, the Secretary-General had condemned Hamas’ rocket fire against Israel and called on Hamas and other terrorist and militant groups to cease all acts of violence and terrorism.  He had also called on Israel to exercise maximum constraint.  Israel had complied with that restraint for many months now, despite the constant firing of rockets and mortar shells on its towns and villages in southern Israel.  That was in spite of Hamas’ attempt to carry out terrorist attacks wherever they could target and kill an Israeli.  While Israel had shown restraint, Hamas had shown no intention of ceasing its attacks.  On the contrary, in the past week, since Hamas had failed to organize a provocative demonstration in Gaza, it had dramatically escalated its rocket attacks against Israelis.  Grad missiles, Katyusha rockets, mortar shells and Qassams were among the weapons used.  Since Wednesday, more than 150 rockets had been fired at Israel, dozens in the past 24 hours. 

More than 250,000 Israeli citizens were in the range of deadly and murderous weapons of Hamas, in the care of its backers in the region and their malicious vision, he said.  “The Government of Israel should not apologize for protecting its citizens.  In fact, where was the Security Council just three days ago, when Hamas fired 80 rockets at Israel, in just a matter of hours?  Where was the outrage and condemnation?” he said.  Israel had addressed the situation for a very long time, he said, pointing to the many letters sent this week to the Council, expressing alarm and concern with Hamas’ attacks and reiterating Israel’s determination to protect its people.  “This is our right.  This is the right of all States to act in self-defence, in accordance with article 51 of the United Nations Charter,” he said, stressing that it was Israel’s duty and obligation.

No responsible Member State would sit back in silence and do nothing as its citizens and territory were under constant attack, he said.  They would not be idle as the alarms in Sderot and Ashkelon gave Israeli civilians less than 15 seconds before rockets slammed into their lives.  Those lives had been destroyed forever.  The activity of Hamas could only be described as terrorism.  Hamas was a terrorist group backed by United Nations Member States who denied the very basic principles set by the international community to cease terrorist acts, recognize Israel and abide by previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.  Hamas not only sought to kill Israelis, it had no concern for its own civilians.  Hamas fired rockets from populated civilian areas, using its own civilians as human shields.  In his statement, the Observer of Palestine had spoken of war crimes, but it was Hamas that was responsible for war crimes against both Israelis and Palestinians.

Hamas’ true vision was the extermination of the State of Israel, and not to live peacefully side by side with Israel, he said.  It did not even seek to restore normalcy for the sake of the Gazans.  Hamas’ vision for failure was shared by some States in the region, such as Iran, who was sitting behind the scenes, orchestrating and supporting Hamas’ terrorism against Israel.  “One must wonder about the timing of Hamas’ escalation of violence, and whether the Council’s convening right now is to distract the international community’s attention from the other debates on the agenda,” he said.  “I reiterate Israel’s determination to protect its civilians and citizens.  It is what they expect from us, and it is what we must do for them.  Sitting on the sidelines will only embolden the extremists and convinces them that they should not stop the violence.” 

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.