Situation in Israel, OPT – 12 May 2021 Daily Press Briefing – (Excerpts)



This morning, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, briefed the Security Council in a close session, as the situation on the ground continues deteriorating into “the most serious escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in years”. We are very concerned by the growing civilian casualties in both Gaza ad Israel and deeply saddened by reported deaths of children in Gaza.

The Secretary-General and Mr. Wennesland have both reiterated that Hamas and other militants’ indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars from highly populated civilian neighbourhoods towards civilian population centres violates international humanitarian law, and it is unacceptable and has to stop immediately.

While recognizing Israel’s legitimate security concerns, Mr. Wennesland also reiterated that Israeli authorities must also abide by their responsibilities under international law and that Israeli security forces should exercise maximum restraint, calibrate their use of force to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of military operations.
The Secretary-General is particularly appalled that children continue to be victims of violence. They should be afforded special protection from any form of violence.

He and his Envoy have called on the international community to take action to enable the parties to step back from the brink and return to the previous understandings that have maintained a relative calm in Gaza and avoid a descent into chaos, with the massive casualties and immense damage to civilian infrastructure that would result. He reminded, Mr. Wennesland reminded the Council members that it is the civilian population on both sides that bears the burden of war and that the most vulnerable are at the ones at greatest risk of suffering.

He also highlighted that these devastating cycles of violence, which destroy the lives and futures of Palestinians and Israelis alike, will only stop with a political resolution of the conflict, an end to the occupation and a realization of a two-State solution on the basis of UN resolutions, international law and existing agreements, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the current risk of escalation will likely worsen the humanitarian situation, especially in Gaza, where the health sector has been struggling to provide basic services for years and has been further burdened further by COVID-19.

Funding for the humanitarian response is critical. The Humanitarian Response Plan for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, asking for $417 million to help 1.8 million vulnerable Palestinians, is 29 per cent funded.

The Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, today said that at least 14 children in the State of Palestine and one child in Israel have been reported killed since Monday.

She noted that another 95 children in Gaza and the West Bank – including East Jerusalem – and three children in Israel have reportedly been injured in the past five days.

Ms. Fore said the situation is at a dangerous tipping point, with the level of violence and its impact on children being devastating.

In any war, she said, children – all children – suffer first and the most.

Ms. Fore called on all sides to end all violence and de-escalate tensions, urging them to protect all civilians, especially children.


Questions and Answers


Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  I’m wondering if the Secretary‑General has any reaction to the Security Council’s inability to come together on the situation in the Middle East and issue any kind of a statement?  Would that have been helpful?

Spokesman:  Well, we don’t think that all hope is lost.  We always… any international situation will always benefit from a strong and unified voice from the Security Council.  We hope that Council members find, have the ability to issue a statement.  Ibtisam?

Question:  A follow‑up, first, on that.  So, the Security Council, the failure of the Security Council to issue a statement has to do, according to diplomatic resources, to… with the refusal of the US to do so, and the US was the only country who opposed that.  Do you have any comments on that?

Spokesman:  Look, you, obviously, speak to more diplomats and have access to more diplomats than I do.  I… and I’m not questioning at all what you’re saying.  It’s just I’m not able to comment on the inner workings of Council members.  We hope that whatever issue there is gets resolved, and we would, as always, we would want to hear a strong, unified message from the Security Council.

Question:  On your statement regarding the security concerns of civilian Israelis, do you believe that Palestinians, civilian Palestinians, have also security concerns and that you should comment on them and take them into consideration?

Spokesman:  I think, I think we have… we have commented on it.  And I think each case of the use of force needs to be analysed, investigated and dealt with.  As we’ve said, Palestinians have the right to demonstrate peacefully, express themselves without fear of harm, and we’ve consistently called on Israel to refrain from excessive force in such contexts.  Civilians, whether in Israel, whether in the occupied Palestinian territory, should not be made the target of acts of terror or subjected to rocket attacks.

Question:  Last one, for now at least.  But, I mean, a follow‑up on that.  As a matter of fact, you did condemn the launching of missiles by Hamas to Israel, but you did not condemn… the SG did not condemn the killing of Palestinians and attacks on Al‑Aqsa Mosque and other places and on civilians.  My question is, and I know we asked these questions in the last few days.  My question’s actually is the Secretary‑General afraid to take any action or to… any statement on this issue because he’s standing for elections and afraid from the American support that they will not support him if he does so?

Spokesman:  No, no… no.  That’s the short answer.  The Secretary‑General has repeatedly condemned the use of force against civilians.

Correspondent:  Including Palestinian civilians…

Spokesman:  Civilians are civilians.

Correspondent:  No, but you…

Spokesman:  I’m just say… I’m answering your question to the best of my ability.  Toby?

Correspondent:  But, you didn’t… yeah.

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  So, the question, is he afraid…?

Spokesman:  No.  I think I answered that first part by saying no.  Toby?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  So, follow‑up from yesterday, do Palestinians have a right to self‑defence?  I think there was some legal hesitation there or something…?

Spokesman:  I think, as I just told Ibtisam, each case of use of force must be analysed, investigated, and dealt with on its own terms.  And I’d refer you to what I’ve just said to Ibtisam.

Question:  Do they have like a common‑sense right to self‑defence?

Spokesman:  Any use of force needs to be analysed.  It needs to be investigated, dealt with on its own terms.  No civilians, whether Palestinians, whether Israelis, should be made the target of terror, of rocket attacks.  Civilians need to be protected.

Question:  Second question is, how concerned should we be about war right now?  I mean, are we on a warpath?  Who… what did Mr. Wennesland say in that regard?

Spokesman:  I think we are very concerned about an escalating spiral of violence.  The… as we’ve just… any violence, any increase in the spiral of violence will just continue to hurt the future of Palestinians, of Israelis.  Our position has been clear that the only solution to this is a political solution based on existing UN resolutions, based on the end of the occupation and the realization of a two‑State solution.


Question:  Thank you.  Can you qualify what going on in Gaza now as an act of aggression?

Spokesman:  I’m not… I’m going to qualify it as an extremely dangerous and ever‑growing cycle of violence that will hurt, first and foremost, civilians.

Question:  Okay.  The statement you have just said on Mr. Wennesland did not put the background of what happened, which started in Jerusalem and started exactly on Friday evening when Israeli security forces invaded Al‑Aqsa Mosque, brutalized the worshippers and left 300 people wounded.  That is how it started.  Why he didn’t put that background before he talks about…?

Spokesman:  Mr. Wennesland… this is sort of the highlights of, the expression… let me put it this way.  This is the expression of our opinion and our analysis of the situation.  In his closed briefing to the Security Council, I know he also reported the facts on the ground.  You had another question?

Question:  One more question, Stéphane.  Do people under occupation have the right to resist their occupiers?

Spokesman:  Look, I think I’ve answered that question.  There’s a body of international law, international humanitarian law, and you’re free to consult it.

For information media. Not an official record.


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