After deadly Gaza shelling, senior UN official urges Israel, Palestinians to return to talks

Palestinians pass by a pool of blood after Israeli shelling at a residential area in Beit Hanoun in the northern of Gaza Strip killed 18, 8 November 2006. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)

The Security Council met in open session today to discuss the latest deadly violence in the Gaza Strip, with a senior United Nations official calling on Israel to review the implications of its military actions, on the Palestinians to take the critically important step of stopping rocket attacks by militants, and on both sides to return to talks.

“The incident that occurred in Beit Hanoun on Wednesday is shocking,” Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane said of yesterday’s Israeli shelling of residential area in which 18 Palestinian civilians were killed, including eight children and seven women.

“Men, women and children, who posed no threat were killed as they slept in their home. While this incident is unusual in scale, however, it is not the first time an Israeli military operation in the occupied Palestinian territory has resulted in a high number of civilian casualties,” she told the 15-member body, which was called into session at the request of the Arab League.

Ms. Kane cited Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s statement of shock yesterday, in which he noted Israel’s announcement of an investigation into the shelling and said he looked forward to its early results.

“We see the investigation as an opportunity for Israel to reflect not only on the obvious military and operational implications, but also on the policy of military pressure as a whole which is quite clearly not producing the desired goal of stopping rocket attacks,” she said.

“The Palestinians need, more than ever, a respite from the siege to which they are subjected so that they can see on the horizon a credible negotiated way out.”

At the same time Ms. Kane noted that the UN had repeatedly condemned Palestinian rocket fire. “We do so again today, as we note that a large number of rockets have been fired by Palestinian militants into Israel during the past week,” she stated. “It is of critical importance that responsible Palestinian forces should join in action to make sure that militant attacks are stopped.”

She reiterated the repeated UN calls for both sides to return to dialogue as “the only way out of this spiral of violence.”

Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said Israel has continued to engage in war crimes against the Palestinian population “every single day, including at this very moment.” In grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, Israel continued to use excessive and indiscriminate force against Palestinian civilians. The massacre in Beit Hanoun was the most recent of these violations.

As the unprotected victims slept in their beds, the Israelis unleashed their fire, killing 19 Palestinians, including a one-month old baby, a one-year old baby, seven children and six women. “This is State terrorism. These are war crimes for which the perpetrators must be held accountable under international law.”

The international community must hold the occupying power responsible, and the lawlessness of the Israeli Government must be brought to an end. Since the end of June, more than 450 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip. “One of the most regrettable aspects… is the fact that Palestine has sent countless letters to members of the Security Council and the Council has done nothing,” he said. President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly called on the Council to shoulder its responsibility and “stop Israel’s brutal crimes.” The Council had failed to respond. “This sanctioning of savage acts by the occupying power creates a culture of impunity among the Israelis.” President Mahmoud Abbas had been working to secure national unity and calm while calling for diplomacy to save many lives. The Council must act, lest its own credibility be damaged.

Israel’s representative, Daniel Carmon, said his country had responded in self-defence to terrorism. In the course of the response, a tragic event occurred: the accidental killing of civilians. “I would like to assure the Council of the Israeli Government and people’s deep sorrow and regret on the deaths of innocent civilians.” An investigation had been ordered, and Israel was doing its utmost to ensure that such incidents did not recur. But although the innocents had been killed by Israeli fire, they were the victims of Hamas. For if the Palestinians halted their terrorist attacks, the incident in Beit Hanoun never would have occurred. The Palestinians must stop using terrorism as a means to achieve their goals.

When Israel left Gaza, he continued, it waited to see whether the Palestinians would respond positively. Unfortunately, Gaza had become a launching pad for terrorist attacks. Since Israel left, more than 1,000 rockets had been fired at Israelis. The smuggling of weapons through tunnels continued, while Cpl. Gilad Shalit remained in the hands of the terrorists. Hamas still did not recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, or agree to abide by past commitments. Israel had been warning the Security Council about the rising violence and escalation of terrorist activities “all in vain.” Resolutions and statements would not change the situation - only action would, starting with a renunciation of terrorism.

The international community must reject the terrorist elements in the Palestinian leadership. Permitting terrorism to continue would endanger the prospects for peace.

Over 30 countries were scheduled to speak during the session.

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