Thank you for this opportunity to brief you on the situation in Israel and the Gaza Strip. I felt the seriousness of the situation required a consultation with Council members.
We are now several days into a dangerous escalation in and around Gaza.
Over the past several days, the Palestinian factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad have fired a barrage of more than 550 rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel, and the Israeli Defence Forces have launched more than 500 airstrikes on Gaza, primarily targeted at Hamas/Islamic Jihad facilities and private residences of their members.
Eighty-eight Palestinians, many of them civilians, are reported to have been killed, and 339 injured. As of yesterday afternoon some 150 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged, with nearly 900 people displaced.
Three rockets were reportedly fired at Jerusalem, with the IDF confirming the impact of one in northern Jerusalem without specifying the exact location. Rockets were also, inter alia,fired at Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Hadera, Ashdod and Be’er Sheva -- some intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system, others causing material damage and injuries to two Israeli civilians. An attempted infiltration by Palestinian militants by sea from Gaza into Ashkelon on the night of 8 July was reportedly foiled by the IDF, which killed the militants. Attacks on both sides continued today.
The situation leading up to the eruption of the past few days was already precarious, following the atrocious kidnapping and murder of four young people: three Israeli Yeshiva students and one Palestinian teenager. These acts shattered a period of relative calm and were widely condemned by the United Nations and the international community. Those responsible must be brought to justice. I would like to take this opportunity again to express my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims of these heinous acts.
Today, we face the risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza, with the threat of a ground offensive still palpable -- and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing.
Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel has announced that the Israeli Cabinet and security establishment remain unified in the decision to intensify operations aimed at targeting terrorist cells and protecting the security of Israelis.
President Abbas continues to appeal for an end to this crisis, and has reached out to President Sisi of Egypt seeking Egypt’s facilitation in the brokering of a ceasefire, on the basis of the Cairo-brokered November 2012 ceasefire of which I was part.
Rhetoric is equally unrelenting. The Hamas leadership, in public statements by Khaled Meshaal and Moussa Abu Marzouk, has called for continued resistance despite earlier indications by both Israel and Hamas that they were not interested in a confrontation.
It is now more urgent than ever to try to find common ground for a return to calm and a ceasefire understanding.
Once again civilians are paying the price for the continuation of conflict.
My paramount concern is the safety and well-being of all civilians, no matter where they are. It pains me -- and it should pain us all -- to be reliving circumstances that are all too reminiscent of the two most recent wars in Gaza.
I have consistently condemned indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. At the same time, the excessive use of force and endangering of civilian lives are also intolerable. It is unacceptable for citizens on both sides to permanently live in fear of the next aerial attack.
All parties, including Palestinian armed groups, must respect international humanitarian law. Israel has legitimate security concerns. But I am also concerned at the many Palestinian deaths and injuries as a result of Israeli operations. I continue to condemn the rising number of civilian lives lost in Gaza. Once again, Palestinian civilians are caught between Hamas’s irresponsibility and Israel’s tough response.
Over the past few days I have been engaging with world leaders, including the King of Saudi Arabia, the Emir of Qatar, the President of Egypt, the heads of the League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the U.S. Secretary of State and European Union High Representative and others. All agree on the importance of returning to calm. Our challenge is to help the parties move away from their entrenched respective narratives.
I have also spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and President Abbas of Palestine. I called on both sides to exercise maximum restraint, show statesmanship and to weigh the risks of further escalation.
Gaza, and the region as a whole, cannot afford another full-blown war and another fault line. The potential negative spillover elsewhere in the West Bank is also unpredictable in an already tenuous and combustible situation.
The current crisis underscores yet again that the status quo is unsustainable.
A solution for Gaza is as indispensable as ever. Core elements of Security Council resolution 1860 remain unimplemented, including the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank under one legitimate Palestinian Authority committed to the PLO principles. If diplomacy can restore calm and end the violence, a broader ceasefire will have to address the underlying causes of conflict, provide for a full opening of the crossings and ensure an end to weapons smuggling. A solution must also include overcoming Gaza’s chronic humanitarian vulnerability, where water and energy are in constant short supply. I continue to encourage the Government of Egypt to urgently open its crossing for humanitarian purposes.
Turmoil in the West Bank has continued, with attacks, reprisals and provocations. Although riots in East Jerusalem have decreased since Monday, clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the rest of the West Bank have continued, including in and around refugee camps. Yesterday, some 10 Palestinians were reportedly injured by IDF near Ramallah and Bethlehem during protests in solidarity with Gaza, which included attacks on Israeli security infrastructures in the West Bank.
It is clear that the international community must accelerate efforts to achieve an immediate halt to this escalation and reach a durable ceasefire. All actors must exercise maximum restraint and respect international humanitarian law. I will continue my efforts to bridge gaps and revive negotiations.
At the same time, I understand that many Israelis and Palestinians are disenchanted with the peace process, especially after the lack of results from the latest diplomatic effort. This setback, and the others that we have seen over many years of Middle East diplomacy, have certainly undermined confidence that peace is possible. But surely no-one can wish for the alternative -- perpetual cycles of violence, pervasive mistrust, polarized peoples.
Now is not a time for further incitement or vengeance. We must not let spoilers prevail. We must keep the situation from getting any further out of control. Any further spiral of violence could have alarming unforeseen consequences.
This is one of the most critical tests the region has faced in recent years. More than ever, the situation calls for bold thinking and creative ideas. We must strive to restore, not only calm today,but a political horizon for tomorrow. The parties themselves, regional partners and the international community must do everything possible to resume meaningful negotiations towards a viable two-State solution. All must recognize, once and for all, that only a peace agreement will bring lasting security for Israelis and Palestinians.
Thank you, Mr President.