New York, 1 March 2008 - Secretary-General's statement to the Security Council on the situation in the Middle EastSince last Wednesday, there has been a deeply alarming escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel, and a terrible civilian death toll. The scenes from Gaza today have been particularly disturbing.
Some 117 rockets have been fired from Gaza at southern Israel, including 26 rockets today. These rockets have been fired at several civilian centres, and have extended as far north as the Israeli city of Ashkelon. According to press reports and Israeli government sources, the rockets fired at Ashkelon are not home-made Qassems, but rather are rockets of advanced Katyusha-like design, allegedly smuggled into Gaza when the border with Egypt was breached. One Israeli civilian has been killed in Sederot and five civilians were reported injured in Ashkelon today, including women and children.
During this same period, the Israeli Defense Forces has undertaken attacks from the air and by land on targets in the Gaza Strip. An estimated 90 Palestinians have been killed, among them many civilians, and injuries are in the hundreds. According to UN estimates, 59 Palestinians have been killed today, including 39 civilians, among them three women, and five minors, including an infant. Let me stress that there are many conflicting reports on the numbers of casualties, and these figures are not confirmed. Additionally there has been heavy property damage.
Israeli land incursions are taking place near Jabalya and the northern Gaza Strip. Two Israeli soldiers are reported to have been killed in the fighting. The IDF reports that it destroyed a truck carrying 160 rockets.
UN sources report at least four incidents of Israeli fire against ambulances and medical personnel. The Palestinian Ministry of Health has issued a call for diesel, in order to operate its ambulances. All UNRWA schools have been closed, and many families are trapped inside their houses by the violence, unable to obtain medical aid or reach safety. I call on Israel to facilitate full access to hospitals and medical centres for the injured.
At the outset of this escalation, I have made clear publicly my deep concern, and I have been diplomatically engaged to press for a calming of the violence. I have spoken today to Palestinian President Abbas, Israeli Foreign Minister Livni, and League of Arab States Secretary-General Moussa. UN agencies on the ground, especially UNRWA, are continuing their efforts to assist people in grave distress.
In light of these deeply disturbing developments, I would like to make the following clear:
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. 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. Israel must fully comply with international humanitarian law and exercise the utmost restraint. Incidents in which civilians have been killed or injured must be investigated and accountability must be ensured.
I am deeply concerned at the possibility of the violence escalating. I have offered our strong support for all efforts to bring about an end to the violence and a period of calm. I call on all parties to step back from the brink of even deeper and more deadly clashes.
I am also extremely concerned at the impact of these developments on the negotiation process. I call on all members of the international community, important stakeholders and Security Council members to exercise their influence on the parties to stop the violence and to allow humanitarian relief. All parties should re-dedicate their commitment to the peace process.
Thank you Mr. President.