Security Council considers resolution on Israeli military actions (2/2)

Dan Gillerman (left), Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, addressing the Council at today’s meeting. (UN/Eskinder Debebe)


The Security Council met this afternoon to consider the situation in the Middle East, following requests from the Group of Arab States, on behalf of the member States of the League of Arab States, and the Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations to convene an “immediate meeting”.

ABDALLAH BAALI (Algeria) said that, while the Quartet was trying to breathe life into what seemed to be a dying peace process, Israel had unleashed its horrors, sowing death and destruction. The outcome of the past five days, during which there had been unfettered use of brute force, had been terrifying. Many Palestinians, including several children, had been killed, and hundreds more had been wounded. Horror and desolation reigned. Instead of acknowledging appeals for restraint, including by the Secretary-General, Israel had decided to pursue its military offensive with the arrogance bestowed upon it by the impunity it enjoyed. It had promised more death and destruction, bearing down on an already suffering civilian population. And, it had used the most sophisticated weaponry to carry out its terrorist enterprise. The Israeli Prime Minister had publicly boasted about what he had considered to be an early success, and had announced on Sunday that an escalation of the military operation could be expected.

He said that that disproportionate use of force had not been in response to a few rockets fired into Israel, which had killed two children, and for which he was deeply sorry. That use of brutal force was clearly part of a strategy designed to terrorize the Palestinian people, annihilating their will and sense of national pride, leaving them battered and broken. Israeli actions had constituted war crimes and acts of State terrorism, which must be energetically condemned and denounced by the international community as a whole. What difference was there between a bomb on a bus killing passengers and a rocket or missile deliberately fired by a tank at a home, killing women and children? he asked. He saw none. Confronted by the present grave turn, the international community could not, must not, remain passive or indifference. It must demand that Israel immediately end the operations in Gaza and respect Council resolutions and the standards of international humanitarian law. He called on support for the balanced draft resolution, which had had introduced today on behalf of the Arab Group.

JUAN ANTONIO YAÑEZ-BARNUEVO (Spain) said his Government had expressed its grave concern about recent events in northern Gaza. There had been far too many deaths, and he regretted them all. The greatest number of victims and deaths, however, were to be found on the Palestinian side. The high number of Palestinian victims showed that Israel’s response was disproportionate. He could not believe that all of them were terrorists. Therefore, the Council had to urge Israel to seize from punitive actions, in particular armed action, not in conformity with international law. While Spain recognized its right to self-defence, it must be exercised within respect for international humanitarian law. And while he understood Israel’s security concerns, he could not but condemn the methods it was using.

He noted with concern that Israeli military activities in Gaza seemed to be taking place in terms of a premeditated plan, the evacuation of Gaza. If that were the case, it would a wrong policy, the results of which would not be what was expected. Violence always bred more violence. He also voiced rejection of the acts of violence committed by Palestinians who believed that recourse to force would be beneficial. Nothing could be further from the truth. Violence could only drive the peace process “off the rails”. There was no armed solution to the conflict. The parties, therefore, had to honour their commitments as set out in the Road Map, which was the only mechanism that could make the peace process move forward. All had to halt the spiralling violence and open up an avenue for peace. The Council also had to shoulder its own responsibilities.

CRISTIAN MAQUIEIRA (Chile) said that the Council had to meet once again, owing to a threat to international peace and security in the Middle East, flowing from the actions of the Israeli Defence Forces against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. He recognized Israel’s right to protect its people against terrorist acts and to take the necessary steps, within the context of international humanitarian law, but the prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories and the actions by the Israeli authorities severely limited the freedom of movement of the Palestinians, destroying their homes and livelihoods. The excessive use of military force had further aggravated the situation and fed the frustrations of the people living in the occupied territories. Construction of the wall, which had been deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice, carved a path through the occupied territories, which, in turn, had contributed to the very harsh conditions of the Palestinian people.

He said that the lack of any prospect of economic development, and the very remote prospect of a better life, as well as the lack of any political outlets, had all underplayed the violence by the Palestinians against Israel. He still awaited constructive measures by the security forces in a way that discharged their responsibility in halting the violence and implementing the Road Map. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority must take effective measures to stop the rocket attacks against Israel. And, both sides must comply with their commitments under the Road Map, yet neither had taken serious steps to implement it. He was also deeply concerned about Israel’s plans to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza, especially the nature of that action and its potential consequences. There must be stability and security in Gaza.

RONALDO MOTA SARDENBERG (Brazil) said that that new deplorable events of brutality and bloodshed were taking place in Gaza, in the occupied PalestinianTerritories. Brazil was gravely concerned at the escalation of violence and the mounting toll of casualties as a result of a new massive operation, code-named “Days of Penitence”, carried out in the last five days by Israeli Defence Forces. It condemned the disproportionate use of force employed by the Israeli military in densely populated areas, which had imposed widespread suffering and loss among scores of Palestinian civilians, including Palestinian children. Brazil also condemned the maintenance by Israel of a policy of extrajudicial killings, which was illegal.

Mr. Sardenberg expressed support for the Secretary-General’s call on Israel to halt its deadly military incursions into the Gaza Strip and added that his country expected the Israeli Government to fully comply with international humanitarian law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention, relative to the protection of civilian people in time of war. The country also condemned the activities of Palestinian militia aimed at Israeli civilian population.

The prevailing situation on the ground, he said, highlights the importance of achieving progress in the peace process with a view to ending the occupation. No unilateral solutions, especially those disregarding the need for negotiation and compromise between the parties, were likely to ensure the fair and lasting peace that all the peoples of the region were entitled to. All parties to the conflict should cease all acts of violence to act in compliance with their obligations under the Road Map, which had been endorsed by the Security Council, and to renew their quest for a peaceful settlement.

MIHNEA MOTOC (Romania) said he was extremely concerned with the recent escalation of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. Condemning terrorists’ rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, he called on the Palestinian Authority to act decisively against the planners and perpetrators. At the same time, he said he was disturbed by reports of Israeli military incursions into northern Gaza, which had led to a number of children’s deaths. Recognizing Israel’s inherent right of self-defence, he, nevertheless, stressed that it must strictly comply with international law and avoid the excessive use of force. He added that Israeli force, in this particular case, would probably not even bring more security.

Calling upon both Israelis and Palestinians to start carrying out their obligations under the Road Map, he said that, as a first step, the Palestinian Authority should unequivocally fight terrorism and refrain from inciting its people to attack Israel. After all, the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people could never be fulfilled through violence. On the other hand, the Israeli Government needed to follow through with its proposed withdrawal from Gaza, freeze its settlement activities, help improve the humanitarian and economic conditions faced by the Palestinian people, and avoid unilateral actions that could prejudge the final outcome of negotiations.

GUNTER PLEUGER (Germany) said he was very concerned about the recent escalation of violence in the northern Gaza Strip. Germany deeply regretted the loss of human life and called on both sides to avoid actions that might further aggravate the situation. Germany strongly condemned the Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot and called upon the Palestinian Authority to do all it could to stop the attacks. While Israel no doubt had the right to self-defence, that right should be exerted in accordance with the rule of law and within the framework of international law. It was in Israel’s well understood interest to respect the principle of proportional reaction and to take into consideration the medium-term consequences of its actions.

He called on both parties to refrain from actions that might strengthen extremist forces and impede the implementation of the Road Map. If the cycle of attack and counter-attack continued, the coordinated implementation of the withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank would be endangered. All parties needed to use these months to work together towards a withdrawal that created the conditions for stability, economic recovery and security.

ANDREY DENISOV (Russian Federation) said that the situation in the Middle East was still moving in the wrong direction. There was still deep mutual distrust and a spirit of confrontation. As a result, there was violence on both sides, and both were suffering a loss of life. He fully confirmed Israel’s right to self-defence against terrorist raids, but the actions of the Israeli army in northern Gaza clearly went well beyond the scale of what had been required to crush the activities of the extremists. He urged restraint; problems, even security problems, could not be solved by force.

Unless the Palestinian leadership, in deeds and not just in words, struggled to constrain the terrorist groups, then what was happening in Gaza today was unavoidable, regardless of the resolution now before the Council, he continued. Genuine reform of the Palestinian security services was long overdue and that could not be further delayed. Dragging out decisive action lay fully and squarely with the Palestinian national administration. The crisis in Gaza threatened implementation of the Road Map, to which there was no alternative. There was logic to the reciprocal steps and the goal of a two-State solution. The clashes in Gaza had made that more remote.

ANACLETO REI A. LACANILLAO (Philippines) deplored the escalation of violence in the Middle East, which had been the bloodiest in the last four years. He was deeply concerned with the growing causalities and deplored, in the strongest terms, the violence that had claimed lives on both sides. He urged Israel to halt its military raids in Gaza and called on it to stop its military assault and withdraw its tanks and vehicles currently blanketing Gaza. He also called on the Palestinian Authority to stop rocket attacks on Israel. The Middle East would not see peace unless the pattern of attack and reprisal were stopped on both sides. Without strong will on all sides, the path to peace would not succeed. The conflict could not be allowed to proceed unabated.

He said both sides should understand that there would be no winners in the conflict. He called on both sides to refrain from acts that would further escalate the violence. As the conflict in the Middle East would never be resolved through violent means, he urged the resumption of the peace process through the Road Map. The parties must fulfil their obligations under the Road Map to achieve a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

JOEL W. ADECHI (Benin) said he was extremely concerned about the worsening situation in Palestine. Self-defence could not justify the massacre of innocent civilians. Loss of life in the occupied territories, particularly of civilians, was unacceptable. That was why he condemned that disproportionate use of force. There could be no exception to the obligation to protect and preserve human life. Respect for the rule of law could not stop at the gates to Palestine, for Palestine was also part of the global village. Accordingly, he called for an immediate halt to the military operation under way in Gaza.

He suggested that Israel’s position would be better heard if, as a Member State of the international community, it fully respected its moral and legal commitments. It claimed to be democratic, and he, therefore, urged it to cooperate in good faith, so that, with the Palestinians, it could develop a common area of peace and prosperity. Israel should respect its obligations with regard to the occupied territories. He recognized Israel’s right to protect its people and territory against terrorist attacks, but it was essential to return to the Road Map, which remained the only practicable way of arriving at a lasting peace. He urged both parties to fulfil their obligations in that regard.

JULIO HELDER DE MOURA LUCAS (Angola) said he was extremely concerned about the situation in the northern Gaza strip, the excessive loss of civilians and the deteriorating humanitarian situation. He called on Israel to halt its military incursions and urged the Palestinian Authority to take action to halt the action of rockets against Israeli targets. He urged the Palestinian Authority to end all acts of terror against Israeli civilians, which had led to Israeli military actions. Of particular concern was the excessive use of force by the Israeli armed forces. He also condemned all acts of violence and indiscriminate use of force against Palestinians. The restrictions imposed on humanitarian workers were also a matter of concern. He called on Israel to ease the plight of the Palestinian population.

The current situation was inconsistent with Israel’s intention to withdraw from Gaza, as well as the Palestinian’s intention to cooperate with such a withdrawal. He also recalled the obligation of the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel under the Road Map. Angola supported the draft resolution introduced by Algeria, as it was a balanced text, which he hoped would have the Council’s unanimous approval.

MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) said that an end to the cycle of violence between Israel and the Palestinian people could facilitate implementation of the Road Map and realization of the two-State solution. Unfortunately, instead of proceeding on the Road Map to peace, the Israeli Government had, once again, reacted by launching a cruel and ill-considered offensive, killing more than 80 Palestinians since last Wednesday. Innocent people had borne the brunt of the military might that Israel had brought to bear in densely populated areas to secure what had been described as its right to self-defence. No one could justify the killing of innocent civilians. That was why he condemned terrorism. The rationale of the right of self-defence could not be invoked for attacks that caused mainly civilian casualties. After the horrible experiences of the last world war, the Geneva Conventions had been adopted, outlawing the targeting of mainly civilian targets. As an occupying Power, Israel was bound by those Conventions, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention. Grave violations of that instrument could be considered war crimes against humanity.

He said that the real cause of insecurity for Israel, as much as for the Palestinians, had been Israel’s illegal, protracted and forcible occupation of Palestinian territories. The uninterrupted policy of illegal settlements had added injury to the continued occupation. The construction of a separation wall in defiance of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice had been a manifestation of an objective for permanent annexation of occupied Palestinian territories. The Council had a political, moral and legal obligation to demand that Israel immediately withdraw its forces sent into Gaza in the last few days and halt its deliberate policy of unleashing death and destruction against the Palestinians.

Israel must respect its obligation under international law, especially international humanitarian law, and allow the United Nations and other relief organizations full and unhindered access, he said. It must also fulfil its Road Map obligations, particularly those related to withdrawal from the occupied territories. It must also halt construction of illegal settlements. It should carefully consider the short- and long-term implications of its actions and policies. A clash of civilizations might be the objective of some extremists, but that was certainly not in the interest of those who sought the path of peace and security in the holy land and beyond.

ZHANG YISHAN (China) noted that the Israeli military operation had caused heavy casualties among Palestinian civilians, including women and children. There had been a further escalation of the conflict, which had exacerbated the situation in the Middle East. He strongly urged Israel to halt its military operations against Palestinians and keep the situation from veering out of control. China also called for an end to attacks against Israeli civilians. Peace in the Middle East could only be realized through negotiation, not the use of violence and force. In that respect, he urged the parties to resume dialogue and return to the path of political negotiations.

For its part, the Council could not remain indifferent and act as a mere spectator, but should take measures to fulfil its responsibility to protect civilians, he said. China supported the draft, which he hoped would be adopted as soon as possible.

JEAN-MARC DE LA SABLIERE (France) said he was extremely concerned by the continuous deterioration in the situation in northern Gaza. The large-scale Israeli military operations initiated on 28 September had produced great casualties and were unjustifiable. At least one third of the victims had been under the age of 18. He condemned the disproportionate use of force by Israel and the massive deployment of troops and armed vehicles into densely populated urban areas. He also deplored Israeli practices of targeted assassinations, which could only fuel the violence. As an occupying Power, Israel must act strictly within the framework of international law and must comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention. It must ensure that there was ongoing, unfettered access for humanitarian organizations, particularly UNRWA.

He reaffirmed the need for Israel to respect and protect UNRWA’s installations, particularly schools and clinics. He also condemned the use of homemade rockets and attacks by armed Palestinian groups against Israeli territories. Those acts were entirely unacceptable, and Palestinian Authority must put an end to those attacks and prosecute the perpetrators. It must strongly reaffirm that no cause justified blind terrorist attacks against civilians. The recent violence had imperilled the hope of peace, raised by the possibility of a Gaza withdrawal. He solemnly appealed to both sides to give up the violence; only a mutual ceasefire and prompt resumption of negotiations could lead to peace and a two-State solution.

JOHN DANFORTH (United States) said the resolution was not the road map to peace: it was one more step on the road to nowhere. Many speakers had spoken about the cycle of violence — one side acted and the other side reacted. Unfortunately, the United Nations, both the General Assembly and the Security Council, instead of telling both sides to stop it, acted as an adversary of Israel and the cheerleader of the Palestinians. That was not the way to peace, nor was it the road map to peace.

The problem of Qassam rockets was not a new one, but went back a long time, he said. This summer, attacks had begun to inflict casualties on Israeli citizens. Last June, the rockets had killed two Israelis. Last Wednesday, the rockets had killed two Israeli children. To that act, Hamas had claimed credit for “victory” over the enemy, the enemy being a two-year-old and four-year-old child. After two years of attacks and after the death of children, it was not unreasonable that Israel felt the need to respond. It had done so, and the cycle of violence continued, so that today two more rockets had been fired.

Qassam rockets were easy to produce, deploy, launch and had become a weapon of choice for terrorists, he said. The issue now was “where to go from here”. It was his position that the Council should not pass one-sided resolutions, but should insist that the Road Map was the way to peace. If Palestinian terrorists shot at Israel, Israel would shoot back. The message should be, stop shooting and return to the Road Map.

EMYR JONES PARRY (United Kingdom), speaking in his national capacity, expressed great concern about the recent outbreaks of violence in Gaza and the large number of deaths. He recognized Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism, but its response must be proportionate and in accordance with international law. Israel must act with restraint, and the Palestinian Authority must fulfil its Road Map commitments on security. Both sides must take greater care to protect civilians because, at present, neither was fulfilling their responsibility under international humanitarian law. Continued violence put in jeopardy not only regional stability, but Israel’s intention to withdraw from Gaza. It must be ensured that Gaza was secure and stable, both immediately after the withdrawal and in the longer term. The Road Map remained the best opportunity for progress. He joined others in calling on both sides to take the necessary steps to meet their obligations under the Road Map and take forward the peace process.

ALI HACHANI (Tunisia), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said the urgent meeting had been convened to discuss the grave deterioration of the occupied Palestinian territory, as a result of Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip. Israel’s campaign had left scores of Palestinians killed and injured, and had resulted in the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, particularly in northern Gaza. The Israeli occupation authorities used all types of weapons in an arbitrary manner, and had obstructed humanitarian workers. He condemned such practices, which represented a flagrant violation of international law and called on the international community to intervene decisively and prompt Israel to end its actions.

Violence would only beget violence, bringing the region into a viscous circle, he said. The Arab Group appealed to the Council to end Israeli acts of aggression against the defenceless Palestinian people. He appealed also to the Council to adopt the resolution, which called on Israel, among other things, to withdraw from northern Gaza, respect international humanitarian law and not obstruct humanitarian assistance. The huge losses to Palestinian property and to public facilities required a firm stand by the international community to provide urgent assistance to the Palestinian people, who deserved international protection.

He said the escalation occurred at a time when Israel continued to expand settler colonialism and to build its separation wall, despite the legal opinions of the International Court of Justice. He reaffirmed the Arab Group’s commitment to adopt a comprehensive peace and called on the resumption of negotiations, so that peace, security and stability could prevail in the interests of the people of the region.

ZEID RA’AD ZEID AL-HUSSEIN (Jordan) stressed the need for the Israeli Government to fully and immediately halt the acts of violence and destruction in Gaza, as well as in all occupied Palestinian territory, and to put an end to its policy of deliberate destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure and homes, and to cease forthwith from acts of extrajudicial killing and the imposition of collective punishment against the Palestinian people. He reiterated his call on Israel to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israeli policy would lead only to further deterioration and escalate tensions in the region. The international community, therefore, must take the necessary steps to prevent Israel from persisting in its deplorable destructive policy, which it started in Gaza, and to stress its rejection of all of those Israeli practices in violation of international law and international humanitarian law.

He said that the Palestinian people had the right to self-determination. Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, therefore, must be full and on the basis of the Road Map and be considered a step towards ending the occupation of all occupied Palestinian territory. But, carrying out the unilateral plan as described would contravene international law, the signed accords, and kill the two-State solution. Meanwhile, he condemned the killing of civilians on both sides, and he maintained that the essential problem in the region was the occupation. The time had come to address that in a serious and viable way.

DIRK JAN VAN DEN BERG (Netherlands), on behalf of the European Union, said that the Union was gravely concerned by the ongoing cycle of retaliatory violence in Israel and the occupied territories. It condemned the rocket attack on Sderot last Wednesday, which resulted in the death of two Israeli children. It also rejected all forms of terrorism and called on the Palestinian Authority to take firm action against the planners and perpetrators of such atrocities.

The Union deplored the disproportionate nature of the Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip, he continued. Those disproportionate actions had claimed the lives of innocent civilians, including children, and left many injured. Though Israel had the right to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks, the exercise of that right should take place within the boundaries of international law. Israel should fully respect the Fourth Geneva Convention. Both parties should exercise maximum restraint with a view to ending the spiral of violence. The only way to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East was through the resumption of security cooperation and direct negotiations between the parties, as called for in the Road Map.

JAVAD ZARIF (Iran) said that Israel’s illegal acts of aggression and oppression against the Palestinian people seemed to be deliberate attempts to preclude and torpedo any possibility of resuscitating peace in the region. Noting the disregard with which Israel had been allowed to carry out its established policy of targeting civilians, he mentioned collective punishments, house demolitions, land confiscations, indiscriminate extrajudicial killings and targeted assassination of Palestinian resistance leaders among the examples of daily acts of terrorism against the Palestinian people.

It was time for the international community in its totality to stop the vicious cycle of violence, he continued. The only solution to the enduring Palestinian crisis was an end to the Israeli occupation, formation of a PalestinianState, with Quds-al-Sharif as its capital, and the return of all Palestinian refugees to their homeland. While strongly condemning the latest Israeli campaign, it was imperative for the international community to heavily weigh in and unambiguously prevent Israel from further carrying out its nefarious designs against the Palestinians.

He added that, shouldering the heaviest responsibility in that respect, the Council should act to prevent Israel from continuing to flout the will of the international community, which was incorporated in numerous resolutions. He hoped that this time all Council members would recognize the need to take decisive action in the face of a new escalation in the region and not allow further paralysis of the Council and erosion of its authority, as a result of failing to address the grave situation in the wake of the recent Israeli campaign.

RASTAM MOHD ISA (Malaysia) associated himself with the statement by the representative of Tunisia on behalf of the Arab Group and said that the Council should condemn the excessive and indiscriminate use of force and physical destruction arising from the broad military incursion and attacks by the Israeli occupying forces in the area of northern Gaza Strip. He was saddened by extensive human casualties and destruction, which had exacerbated the dire humanitarian situation in the area. The Council must exercise its role and responsibility in that regard. He urged members of the Quartet to play a more vigorous role and undertake all necessary measures to reverse such a situation.

The Road Map must be resuscitated and both parties should immediately implement their obligations under it, he continued. The international community must prevail upon Israel to desist from its policy of collective punishment and acts of aggression against the Palestinians. It should also render all necessary assistance to the Palestinian Authority to strengthen its security apparatus. As Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Tenth Islamic Summit Conference, Malaysia would continue to do its part by working with all relevant parties, including the Quartet and the Council, to bring about a just and durable peace in the Middle East. An independent and sovereign State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, would be the best hope for lasting peace in the region, with both Israel and Palestine living peacefully, side by side within secure and recognized borders.

The Council must now seriously consider approving the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force or placement of an international monitoring mechanism in the occupied Palestinian territory to oversee the implementation of the Road Map, he said. Israel must realize that a military solution was not the answer to the conflict. Both sides must return to the negotiating table and seek a political solution. There were ways in which the Council could ensure compliance with its resolutions and decisions by Israel, and Malaysia called upon it to do so now, to ensure that justice and the rule of law would prevail in the occupied Palestinian territory.

AMR ABOUL ATTA (Egypt) said his delegation rejected all forms of violence, which targeted civilian populations. Current developments threatened to abort the objective of just and lasting peace. Egypt had made many efforts to break the stalemate and build bridges of confidence. It also tried to bring both sides together. He was angry and sad to see the seeds of hatred being sown. He called for Israel’s full withdrawal and demanded that it abide by all international law and United Nations resolutions. He regretted Israel’s intention to continue the incursion for weeks. The latest incursion into Gaza had been called the “Days of Penitence”. He had hoped to see a “Day of Hope” in which the suffering of the Palestinian people would have been lessened.

Egypt demanded an immediate end to Israeli actions on the Gaza Strip and urged the Council to adopt a unified position in that regard. Efforts for a political settlement could not be made in a vacuum. The widening Israeli incursion and the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure would not lead to a successful withdrawal from the Gaza strip. Egypt affirmed the need for a ceasefire agreement, as well as the need to restore confidence between the two sides, thereby moving towards the full and faithful implementation of the Road Map.

Mr. KITAOKA (Japan) said that, in order to prevent further deterioration of the situation, he strongly urged the Israeli side to exercise maximum restraint and the Palestinian side to make the utmost efforts to control the extremists and produce tangible results in that regard. He urged both sides to promptly resume their efforts to implement the Road Map.

DUMISANI KUMALO (South Africa) noted that, just last week, an overwhelming number of delegations participating in the general debate of the General Assembly identified the situation in the Middle East as requiring urgent attention by the international community. There had been encouraging reports that Israel was planning to withdraw from Gaza, and the Quartet had called for such disengagement to take place in the context of the Road Map. But there had also been concern because each time there had been a hopeful sign in the Middle East, it had been met by increasing violence and destruction. The only way to achieve progress was through dialogue and negotiations that would lead to the creation of two States - — an IsraeliState and a PalestinianState, both with secure and internationally recognized borders.

South Africa had always been among those States that had condemned all acts of violence, terror, excessive and indiscriminate use of force and the physical destruction of property, he continued. The situation in Gaza over the past few days had deteriorated much further than anyone could have imagined, and the Security Council could no longer postpone taking action. If the Council was unable to act, that would make the achievement of a peaceful solution in the Middle East even more remote. The Council must call for an immediate cessation of all military operations in Gaza and for the withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces from the area. It must further call on Israel to ensure unfettered access and safety of United Nations personnel and all medical and humanitarian workers to provide emergency assistance to the civilian population that finds itself caught up in yet another conflict.

YAHYA MAHMASSANI, Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States, said the grave situation in the occupied Gaza Strip threatened international peace and security. The crimes perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people could only bring further bloodshed and instability. Events had already proven that the policy of military escalation against civilians would not subdue the Arab will into accepting a settlement according to Israel perceptions. Violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention had become a daily occurrence and the building of the separation wall continued.

How could the Council remain a silent observer in the face of daily crimes by the Israeli occupation forces? he asked. In that regard, he called on the Quartet members not to remain silent vis-à-vis Israeli crimes. Fifty years of violence had not convinced Israel that violence would settle the Arab Israeli conflict. International legitimacy was the sole way of ensuring that both sides lived in peace and security. He called on the Council to provide international protection to the Palestinian people in accordance with international law. Israel’s attempts to divert attention and to place the conflict under the guise of fighting terror had failed. Occupation bred resistance and the military option had only brought about a further deterioration of the situation in the region. Israel’s choice of violence over dialogue had failed. Such a policy had resulted in killing and suffering. The Council was called on to adopt measures that renounced violence and prompted Israel to return to the negotiating table.

ORLANDO REQUEIJO GUAL (Cuba) said that the recent escalation in the military operations against the occupied Palestinian territory had caused numerous deaths, including of children. He energetically condemned the attacks on Palestinian civilians and the general destruction being wrought by the Israeli military in northern Gaza. He called for the immediate end to those attacks and the withdrawal of the forces.

State terrorism, as practised by Israel, which knew no boundaries, must cease, he said. Its latest hostile acts only joined the growing list of violations of the most basic human rights and damage to Palestinian property. He cited as examples the arbitrary arrests and executions of Palestinians, acts of torture, construction of the wall, and asphyxiation of the economy. He reiterated the need for Israel to respect international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.

He said he fully supported the cause of the Arab States, particularly the cause of the Palestinian people against Israeli occupation and aggression. He felt a deep sense of solidarity with their resistance and rebellion. At the same time, he condemned the suicide attacks against civilians, who were innocent victims of the spiral of violence provoked by Israeli policy. He also objected to Israel’s manipulation of such isolated acts by invoking the claim of self-defence. Faced with the clear threat to international peace and security, the Council must act without the double standard that had formerly characterized its activity in that regard, and adopt the resolution on behalf of the Arab Group. The United States should avoid paralysing the process with a veto, and it should immediately withdraw its financial support of Israel, including the provision of tanks, missiles, helicopters and airplanes currently being used against civilians.

RAVAN FARHADI, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said another crisis was unfolding in the occupied Palestinian territory. Against the backdrop of an already volatile situation, Israel had launched a massive operation in the northern Gaza strip in heavily populated areas. Over 70 had been killed since the operation began. Palestinian civilians were being killed daily. Only today, Palestinians had fallen victim to attacks. Since the beginning of the intifada, more than 3,700 Palestinians had been killed and some 35,600 injured. The Palestinian Rights Committee was alarmed by the disproportionate use of force in the Gaza Strip and called on the Israeli Government to uphold its obligation as the occupying Power and immediately stop the military assault on the Gaza Strip and the rest of the occupied territories. Actions that further harmed and impoverished Palestinians would not bring security to the Israelis.

The Committee urged the Council to send a clear message to the occupying Power to stoop wreaking havoc in the Gaza Strip, he said. He also called on the Palestinian Authority to do all it could to stop Palestinian militants from firing rockets against Israeli targets. He called on the international community to step up its assistance to UNRWA, whose dwindling resources limited its ability to support the growing number of homeless and destitute Palestinians. He called on Israel to allow UNRWA workers unhindered access to Palestinian families, who desperately needed medicine and humanitarian aid. He also urged the Quartet to do all it could to get both sides to return to the negotiating table and to begin the long delayed implementation of the Road Map and the principle of the permanent two-State solution based on 1967 borders.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said that an opportunity remained for the Council to shoulder its responsibility and to adopt measures that would lead to an end to the crimes perpetrated by Israel against a defenceless people without mercy, or respect for international law or previous Security Council resolutions, which numbered 40, as well as those of the General Assembly, which numbered more than 600. Those had been adopted while Israel continued its barbaric military attacks against the Palestinians. Israel had not hesitated to use the latest weapons in its arsenals, including internationally banned weapons of different types and classes, against civilian targets, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction. Those attacks had become commonplace. As the situation on the ground continued to deteriorate, Israel continued to pursue its illegal destructive policies and practices.

He said that, of the 83 recent casualties, many had been children and elderly. The Israeli military machinery had persisted in its killing and destruction, including of many homes, schools, health centres and United Nations’ facilities. Those were war crimes, which deserved condemnation by the international community, in order to prevent their spillover to the region and beyond. The killing and destruction by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory was a collective punishment meted out to Palestinians living under brutal occupation. Many questions begged answers, such as how long would the Council remain incapable of condemning Israeli terrorism and adopting a position in favour of justice and equality free from double standards? How was it possible to explain the Council’s negative position in the face of Israeli defiance and arrogance? And, when would Israel cease being treated as above the law? He cautioned against misinterpretations about the proposed unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, stressing that peace would only come once Israel met its commitments.

ALTAY CENGIZER (Turkey) said he was deeply troubled by the ongoing terrible events and the cycle of violence in the region. The recent escalation in the Gaza Strip was the most recent tragedy, indicating how grave the situation had actually become. The Palestinian population was helpless in the face of the drive for collective punishment. While recognizing the legitimate security needs of Israel, he was also critical of its policies of demolition, excessive use of force and targeted killings. The military operations and destruction could have no justifiable basis. It was sad that the world was once again witnessing Israel’s disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force which did not secure the security it sought.

On the other hand, however, Turkey believed that the Palestinian Authority should be steadfast in stepping up its efforts to resolve the terrorist infrastructure, he said. Radical elements should not be allowed to seize the future of the Palestinian people and come to define the just struggle of the Palestinians. Security for all could only be achieved if an environment conducive to revitalizing the stalled peace process was made possible by all the relevant parties of the Palestinian society.

Turkey called on both parties to exercise the utmost restraint to prevent any escalation that could destabilize the entire region. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict lay at the heart of the Middle East question. He strongly urged both parties to pursue a path of reconciliation through direct negotiations for a just and a viable peace in accordance with the two-State vision based on the Road Map.

The Council PRESIDENT noted that a draft resolution had been circulated, had gone “into blue” and would be discussed in consultations tomorrow at 4 p.m., at which time the Council would see how to proceed.

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