Concerned by the recent demolition of homes in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, the United Nations Security Council today called on Israel to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law and insisted on its obligation not to destroy homes contrary to that law.
The Council voted 14 in favour, with the United States abstaining, to adopt a resolution expressing its grave concern regarding the humanitarian situation of Palestinians made homeless in the Rafah area, and calling for the provision of emergency assistance.
Earlier this week, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) reported that nearly 2,200 people have been left without shelter and 191 homes have been demolished throughout Gaza since the beginning of May.
The Council text also called on both parties to immediately implement their obligations under the Road Map, a plan sponsored by the UN, European Union, Russian Federation and United States - the so-called diplomatic Quartet - that calls for a series of parallel and reciprocal steps leading to two states living side-by-side in peace by 2005.
Earlier Wednesday Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he had been in touch with US Secretary of State Colin Powell and US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, discussing the situation with them and the need to bring the situation under control.
“I also had a call from [Palestinian Authority] Chairman Yasser Arafat…appealing for assistance from the international community, and pleading with the UN and the international community to do something, and indicating that the civilians are under threat, and that this morning’s attack killed many children and women,” he told reporters.
The Secretary-General also stressed Israel’s obligation “as an occupying power for the protection of civilians.” He said the destruction of houses has added greater burden on the population and created very difficult circumstances under which UNRWA must work.
“As the numbers increase, it is going to be even much more difficult for us…so I appeal for them to stop the destruction and really take steps, which is their obligation to protect the civilians,” he said.
UNSC RESOLUTION 1544 (2004)
“The Security Council,
“Reaffirming its previous resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 446 (1979), 1322 (2000), 1397 (2002), 1402 (2002), 1403 (2002), 1405 (2002), 1435 (2002), and 1515 (2003),
“Reiterating the obligation of Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of
12 August 1949,
“Calling on Israel to address its security needs within the boundaries of international law,
“Expressing its grave concern at the continued deterioration of the situation on the ground in the territory occupied by Israel since 1967,
“Condemning the killing of Palestine civilian that took place in the Rafah area,
“Gravely concerned by the recent demolition of homes committed by Israel, the occupying power in the Rafah refugee camp
“Recalling the obligations of the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel under the Road Map,
“Condemning all acts of violence, terror and destruction,
“Reaffirming its support for the Road Map, endorsed in its resolution 115 (2003),
“1. Calls onIsrael to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law, and insists, in particular, on its obligation not to undertake demolition of homes contrary to that law;
“2. Expresses grave concern regarding the humanitarian situation of Palestinians made homeless in the Rafah area and calls for the provision of emergency assistance to them;
“3. Calls for the cessation of violence and for respect of and adherence to legal obligations, including those under international humanitarian law;
“4. Calls on both parties to immediately implement their obligations under the Road Map;
“5. Decides to remain seized of the matter.”
The Security Council met this afternoon to discuss the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.
The Council was meeting in response to the request contained in a letter dated 17 May from the Permanent Representative of Yemen (document S/2004/393). Council members had before them a text of a draft resolution submitted by Algeria and Yemen (document S/2004/400), as well as identical letters addressed to the Secretary-General and the Council President (document S/2004/394).
Action on Draft Resolution
The draft resolution was adopted by a vote of 14 in favour to none against, with 1 abstention (United States).
Speaking after the vote, ABDALLAH BAALI (Algeria) said he welcomed the adoption by the Council of a resolution on the situation in the Palestinian territory. It unambiguously condemned the actions in Rafah, where tens of unarmed civilians, including many children, had fallen under the fire and missiles of the Israeli army in barbaric acts condemned throughout the world. He also welcomed the fact that the Council was expressing grave concern regarding the large-scale demolition of homes, in flagrant violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions.
He said he was particularly pleased that the Council today had been united in rejecting the scandalous conduct of Israel and had decided to send it a strong signal. It could not continue to flout the authority and norms of international law with impunity. The international community now was expecting that Israel should abide by its will and end the destruction and provocation against Palestinians and, in good faith, abide by its commitments as laid down in the Road Map, under which it had been called upon to take a series of steps.
Equally important was for Israel to immediately cease its military operations in Rafah and withdraw its troops without further delay, he said. After today’s butchering, Israel would be well counselled to heed the voice of reason just this time. Today’s action by the Council demonstrated its ability to meet its responsibilities and respond to the expectations of the international community.
JAMES CUNNINGHAM (United States) said that the Government of Israel had expressed its deep regret for the deaths. The United States had urged the Israeli Government to exercise maximum restraint. That Government, as well as those of neighbouring States, must strive to provide the best conditions on the ground to halt the violence.
He said that Palestinian terrorists had been smuggling weapons through Gaza and that the Palestinian Authority had not taken sufficient action to halt those activities.
ALEXANDER KONUZIN (Russian Federation) expressed support for the text, saying that his delegation was guided by fundamental principles. Russia was concerned by the latest upsurge of violence, which continued to kill innocent civilians, including women and children. Innocent victims were being subjected to collective punishment.
Lasting peace could be achieved only through negotiations based on the relevant Security Council resolutions, he said. Israel must bring its actions in line with the Road Map, which it had itself approved. While Israel had the right to security, it must adhere to the Geneva Conventions. There must be an immediate and mutual end to the violence, however difficult that might be.
MICHEL DUCLOS (France) said he voted in favour of the resolution because it seemed essential for the Council to react quickly and firmly, faced with the brutal deterioration of the situation in Gaza. It was necessary for the Council to make an appeal to reason and restraint, as had already been done by the European Union and the Secretary-General. France was dismayed by the recent violence and expressed its sympathy to the civilian population affected by the Israeli military operations.
He said his country and the European Union had condemned the large-scale demolition of Palestinian homes in Rafah, which was disproportionate and contrary to international law and the obligations of Israel under the Road Map. Similarly, France expected from the Palestinian Authority that it carry out more determined action for security, with particular regard to the campaign against terrorism. The destruction of homes and the military operations must cease immediately. A ceasefire was urgent, and that included all parties and groups. Also urgent, without delay, was for the Palestinians and the Israeli Government to implement their obligations under the Road Map.
CHENG JINGYE (China) had been surprised at the Israeli large-scale demolition of Palestinian homes. That practice violated international law. He also condemned the Israeli military actions, which had caused heavy civilian casualties in Gaza. Those actions taken by the Israelis would only aggravate the already worsening situation in the Middle East and in no way help the resumption of peace talks. He urged Israel to halt immediately such actions and return to the path of political settlement. Based on that position, China had supported the draft resolution.
He appealed, once again, to the Israelis and Palestinians to cease the vicious cycle of violence and resume contacts and dialogue as soon as possible, and implement the relevant obligations under the Road Map. The international community should intensify efforts to push through a speedy resumption of its implementation. The Chinese Government and people had deep sympathy for the sufferings of the Palestinian people and were ready to provide them with the appropriate humanitarian assistance.
MIHNEA MOTOC (Romania) said that the evolution of the situation had been marked and confirmed by the escalating violence. All actions to fight terror must be taken in accordance with international law. Romania encouraged both parties to declare a ceasefire and seek the way of negotiations.
YANEZ BARNUEVO (Spain) said that the vote on the resolution had been a speedy, united and balanced action on the part of the Security Council in light of the recent situation in Gaza, which imperilled the entire peace process.
Spain had followed the situation with deep alarm, he said. The actions carried out today had serious consequences, and the Spanish Government had no alternative but to condemn the demolition of Palestinian homes. At the same time, Spain recognized the right of the State of Israel to self-defence. However, the use of force would not speed the road to that security. Negotiations were the only way.
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), Council President, speaking in his national capacity, said he voted for the resolution, which was the minimum necessary response to the Israeli military incursions in Rafah, which had left scores of Palestinian civilians dead or injured. Pakistan condemned those actions. The blatant attack on demonstrators today was the latest violation of international humanitarian law, especially Israel’s obligations as an occupying Power under the Geneva Conventions. Silence at that critical juncture was not an option for the Council. It was, therefore, a matter of some satisfaction that it had at last been able to pronounce itself on the continued violations of international law and humanitarian norms in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Unfortunately, in Palestine, as in certain other parts of the world, the legitimate campaign to root out terrorism had been abused by the occupying Power to suppress the legitimate right of peoples to self-determination. Peace in the holy land, as elsewhere, could not be established merely by imposing a “fait accompli” on the weaker party. The Israeli actions were bound to cause further deterioration in the security situation, which was already volatile, due to the continued Israeli occupation of Arab territories. Those actions would already further aggravate the humanitarian situation there, particularly in Gaza.
The ability of the Security Council and the international community to bring durable peace to Palestine and the Middle East on the basis of the Council’s resolutions and the Quartet’s Road Map could produce positive results throughout the Arab and Islamic world. Failure to do so would further intensify the frustration and anger among Arab and Islamic peoples, increase insecurity and instability in the entire region, and escalate support for terrorism and extremism.
NASSER AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, said that the slaughter today of innocent Palestinian children by the Israeli occupying forces in the Rafah camp was the most recent and most telling illustration of the vicious and barbaric actions of the occupying Power. Since the beginning of May, the Israeli occupying forces had killed at least 96 Palestinians, including 28 children. Palestinians and emergency rescue personnel, poorly equipped and in desperate need of supplies, had been unable to keep up with the rising number of casualties.
In addition to the human loss and devastation, Israel continued to pursue its illegal and inhumane practice of destroying Palestinian homes and properties, causing widespread destruction and material loss and compounding the grief, suffering and humanitarian hardships of the Palestinian people.
He said that during the past several days, the occupying Power had escalated those unlawful practices in the Rafah area, including particularly the Rafah refugee camp, causing excessive and vast damage. The humanitarian impact had been overwhelming.
With the ongoing military operation carried out by Israel, and the declarations that hundreds more Palestinian homes in Rafah were targeted for demolition, he said, it was more clear than ever that the aim of the Israeli actions was the effective levelling of the Rafah camp and areas in the city of Rafah itself. Indeed, some of the statements made by Israeli officials were starkly clear about that very intention.
DAN GILLERMAN (Israel) said the Council had convened at the urgent behest of the Palestinian Observer, under a barrage of information, misinformation and disinformation. The numbers distributed by the Palestinians were exaggerated and totally false. He was disappointed that some members of the international community, including in the statement attributed to the Secretary-General, had been misled by the Palestinian propaganda machine, resulting in false conclusions, which did not reflect the facts on the ground.
He said that, during a large procession of several hundred demonstrators, which included many gunmen, several Palestinians had been killed, of which four to five were armed terrorists. The incident had occurred as the crowd left central Rafah along the main road towards Israeli Defense Forces in Tel-Sultan. The demonstration had been organized by none other than the Palestinian Authority, in violation of the established curfew.
While Israel regretted any loss of civilian life, those numbers put into proportion today’s incident, which itself had taken place under conditions of heavy fighting by Palestinian terrorists, he said. Under the incredibly difficult circumstances in which Israel had taken action against the terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, terrorists operated among civilians and tragedy could strike.
He said his country had done and would continue to do everything it could to prevent harm to innocent civilians. Even during times of war, the death of innocent civilians was regrettable, but “we cannot be deluded by false pretense and any ambiguity between the terrorists and those who fight this deplorable scourge”, he stressed.
Regrettably, certain Council members had been galvanized to condemn Israel’s response to the ongoing Palestinian terrorist campaign, and not those actions that had brought the region to despair and compelled Israel to take defensive measures, he said. The one-sided text rebuked Israel, but failed to expressly condemn the Palestinian terrorism that necessitated Israeli action. The Palestinian delegation had, once again, rejected any language that sought to recognize any consideration of the legitimate aims of Israel’s defensive counter-terrorist operation.
Meanwhile, he said, the Council had never dealt with the dangers to peace and security of smuggling arms through the tunnel of Rafah from Egypt. It had not met to condemn the horrendous desecration of the bodies of Israeli soldiers - — young men who had been killed during a defensive operation to dismantle those tunnels. Nor had it come together following the hijacking of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) ambulance by armed elements in Gaza last week. Neither had it stood up against the murder of a mother and her four daughters in the Gaza Strip or the continuing cultivation of a culture of hate and destruction by the Palestinian leadership.
He said that the Council would not serve the cause of peace in the Middle East by condemning Israeli actions and ignoring the violence, terrorism, and incitement that continued to emanate from the Palestinian leadership. Such repeated rituals emboldened the terrorists and not those who sought to dismantle it.
“Today, Israel stands at the gates of hell in the Gaza Strip”, he said. The southern city of Rafah served as the “Arms Smuggling Gateway” of the Palestinian Authority and the main pipeline for transporting weapons and ammunition into Gaza. Since September 2000, subterranean tunnels, constructed underneath the “Philadelphia Route”, had been used by Iran and Hezbollah, as well as by Palestinian terrorist organizations like Hamas and the PFLP, for turning the Gaza Strip into a base for missile and rocket attacks against Israeli targets.
He said that those “tunnels of terror” provided the conduit for the smuggling of large amounts of diverse weapons, among them hundreds of kilograms of explosives, hundreds of rifles, tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition and dozens of RPG rockets and launchers, which were entirely incompatible with signed agreements and any plan to return to non-violent negotiations. The smuggling of massive arsenals and weapons was of epidemic proportions, and the cynical use of civilian areas to launch terrorist attacks, invariably led to the loss of innocent life and affected the basic right of people to lead their lives in peace.
Faced with the failure of the Palestinian leadership to comply with its obligations to fight terrorism, stop incitement and prevent weapons smuggling, Israel remained obligated to act in self-defence against a threat that posed a clear and present danger to innocent lives, while upholding its obligations under international law, he said. The purpose of the Israeli Defence Forces action in Gaza was to terminate the transfer of all illegal weapons by underground tunnels to Gaza. One security measure employed in that regard was the demolition of structures that posed an operative security risk to Israeli forces.
He said that if Israel did not act today to fight against the weapons smuggled and manufactured in Gaza, next month Katyusha rockets would be aimed at the homes of its citizens.
The Rafah tunnels were typically dug inside residential homes to evade discovery by Israeli security personnel, he explained. Those were concealed under bathrooms, living rooms and kitchens, and were intentionally hidden under the children’s beds, concealed by loose planks and rags. Since April, the Israeli Defence Forces had exposed eight underground tunnels used for smuggling weapons in the area of Rafah, in addition to 11 underground tunnels since the beginning of the year, and 90 underground tunnels since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000. Just this week, Israeli forces discovered a new tunnel in Rafah already activated for use in smuggling arms into Gaza. The tunnel was 150 metres long, five metres deep and had four openings that led directly into Palestinian homes in the area.