Thank you for the opportunity to brief you today on my three-day visit to Egypt, Israel, the occupied Palestinian territory and Jordan.
Since the situation in Gaza and Israel escalated last week, I made it my priority to contribute to efforts to halt the violence, with the priority aim of protecting civilians.
I cancelled a previously planned trip to travel to the Middle East instead, as a clear signal of the need for international diplomatic mobilization to prevent a further escalation that would put the whole region at risk, and to strengthen the commendable efforts led by Egypt to reach a ceasefire.
I warmly welcome today’s ceasefire announcement. I commend the parties for stepping back from the brink, and I commend President Morsi of Egypt for his exceptional leadership.
Our focus now must be on ensuring the ceasefire holds and that all those in need in Gaza – and there are many – receive the humanitarian assistance they need.
It is a huge relief for the people of Gaza and Israel, and for the international community, that the violence is stopping.
But we are all aware of the risks.
And we are all aware that there many details that must be solidified for a broad, durable ceasefire to take firm hold over the longer term. It is imperative that both sides stick to the ceasefire in order to allow these underlying issues to be addressed in a sustainable fashion.
Today’s announcement follows a week of devastating violence in southern Israel and Gaza, including the terror attack today on a bus in downtown Tel Aviv, which I strongly and immediately condemned.
This brought us to an important moment, after a week of intense diplomacy to reach
In this regard, I met with Egyptian President Morsi, League of Arab States Secretary-General ElAraby, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Palestinian President Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Judeh, and many other leaders in each location, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Egypt, the Minister of Defense, Foreign Minister and President of Israel, and Prime Minister Fayyad.
I also met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while in Jerusalem.
My paramount concern throughout has been for the safety and well-being of all civilians, no matter where they are. Innocent people, including children, have been killed and injured on both sides.
Families on both sides were forced to cower in fear as the violence raged around them.
It pained me to be back here under circumstances similar to those when I visited in 2009 during “Operation Cast Lead”, and recent events have been eerily reminiscent.
This morning I heard from the UN team in Gaza. They reported on the impact of the violence, including increased civilian casualties, which reached more than 139 Palestinians killed, more than 70 of them civilians, and more than 900 injured, and the displacement of 10,000 Gazans who are now in 12 UNRWA schools and 2 run by local authorities.
UNRWA has emphasized the critical need to support ongoing programmes in food assistance, health and sanitation, which are experiencing funding shortfalls, and now will be burdened by supporting additional displacements. I am asking our emergency and humanitarian teams to be prepared to do whatever they can to alleviate the suffering.
Attacks on both sides continued today as the ceasefire approached. The bomb today in Tel Aviv injured 23 people, three severely. The indiscriminate firing of rockets targeting Israel also continued, and one long range rocket landed on the outskirts of Jerusalem yesterday, with no injuries reported. Since 14 November, rocket fire has resulted in death of 4 Israeli civilians, and 219 are reported injured, most of whom are civilians.
Three are in serious condition. One Israeli soldier was killed yesterday, and 16 Israeli soldiers have been wounded, one critically. Overall, in that same time period, more than 1,456 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel. 142 have fallen inside Gaza itself.
Approximately 409 were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Ten Fajr-5 missiles have been shot at Tel Aviv suburbs and the sea, 5 of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome system. Three long-range missiles have hit the outskirts of Jerusalem, which is unprecedented.
Since Israel’s targeted assassination from the air, on 14 November, of Ahmed Jaabari, chief of Hamas’ military wing, and with Israel’s offensive in Gaza in its eighth day, the Israel Defense Forces publicly reported that it has conducted strikes at more than 1,450 targets in Gaza.
Airstrikes have targeted sites across the Gaza strip and included, but were not limited to, rocket-launching sites, military bases, police stations as well as tunnels along the border with Egypt.
The Israeli Air Force also targeted residential and office buildings which the IDF said belonged to members of Palestinian armed groups. Hundreds of buildings were hit by Israeli Air Force attacks.
Media offices and personnel of al Quds and al Aqsa television were targeted on 18 and 20 November resulting in the death of three media professionals and injury to 10 others.
I consistently condemned indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. I also believe that at the same time, the excessive and disproportionate use of force that endangers civilian lives is intolerable.
It is unacceptable for citizens on both sides to permanently live in fear of the next strike. Put simply, all parties must respect international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of all civilians, at all times.
Earlier today I travelled to Egypt for the second time this trip to support the cease-fire talks in the final phase taking place under the auspices of President Morsi and with the active support of several regional and international leaders.
Visits of Foreign Ministers of several countries, including France, Germany, the
United Kingdom, the United States and many other Arab countries were a further strong indication of the concerns of the international community and its shared goal of stopping the violence.
In my meeting with President Morsi only hours ago he said that he was very close in his effort to achieve a ceasefire. He also reiterated the need to address the underlying issues of concern to both sides so that a ceasefire can be sustainable. In addition, President Morsi expressed his concern that the comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, to which Egypt is committed, has not yet been achieved. I underscored the importance of President Morsi’s efforts given his leadership and contacts with all sides.
Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council
I know that Palestinians and Israelis both have fundamental concerns about the status quo ante. As President Morsi said, these underlying issues need to be addressed and the UN is prepared to help facilitate all efforts in this regard. But people are dying every day and cities are being targeted every day. The humanitarian crisis is growing exponentially the longer the crisis continues. We need a ceasefire now, followed immediately by negotiations on the underlying issues. That is the sequence that can save lives now.
The current crisis underscores that the status quo is unsustainable, and that long-term solutions must be found to the problems of Gaza, and for the Palestinians as a whole. Core elements of Security Council Resolution 1860 remain unimplemented. Once the calm is fully restored and the violence ends, a broader ceasefire will have to address all the underlying causes of conflict, including a full opening of the crossings, Palestinian reconciliation, and an end to weapons smuggling.
It is clear that the international community must speak with one voice to prevent a return to violence. I plan to keep in touch with world leaders and I have asked my Special Coordinator Robert Serry to remain in Cairo to support the efforts to achieve a sustainable ceasefire.
Finally, Mr. President, let me conclude by stressing, as I have in all my discussions during this intense trip, that in these testing times where the entire region is experiencing profound transformations, we must not lose sight that peace must remain our ultimate and priority goal. A negotiated two-state solution ending a prolonged occupation and ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is more urgent than ever. Achieving this vision, which has been affirmed by this Council repeatedly is long overdue and paramount to the stability of the region. Only a just and comprehensive peace can bring lasting security to all.
Mr. President, Distinguished Members, I am leaving shortly to New York. I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you, Mr. President.