World ‘at Brink of Abyss That Could Change Trajectory of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’, Middle East Coordinator Warns Security Council
Many Speakers Lament Organ’s Inaction, Urge Immediate End to Violence
The international community must urgently come together to secure an immediate cessation of hostilities, the unconditional release of all hostages and safe and unhindered humanitarian access, delegates heard today, during a Security Council briefing on the situation in the Middle East, following the 7 October invasion of Israel by Hamas and a 17 October attack against the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza.
Amid calls for an end to violence and warnings of a widening conflict in the region, the 15-member organ had met on 16 October and earlier today to agree on the terms for a humanitarian ceasefire but failed on both occasions to adopt a resolution to that end. (For background, see Press Releases SC/15445 and SC/15450.)
Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, speaking from Doha via video link, said he feared the world is at the brink of a deep and dangerous abyss that could change the trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if not the entire Middle East. Condemning the massacre perpetrated by Hamas against Israelis on 7 October, he said: “The events of the past 11 days have served to reignite grievances and reanimate alliances across the region. The risk of an expansion of this conflict is “very, very real and extremely dangerous”.
Detailing his efforts, alongside the Secretary-General and the leaders of the region, to diminish this existential threat, he said the first step is to achieve two urgent humanitarian objectives: Hamas’ immediate, unconditional release of all hostages and unrestricted access of humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza. The next step must be collective efforts to end the hostilities and prevent the conflict’s expansion in the region, he said, adding: “What we must do now is work together as one to achieve these objectives.”
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, voiced his despair at the attack on the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip on the evening of 17 October, pointing out that the evacuation of those subject to Israeli authorities’ announcement that civilians should leave for their safety had not been possible due to insecurity, the critical condition of many patients, the lack of ambulances and the capacity of the health system, which is on its knees in Gaza.
The invasion of Israel and the taking of hostages was simply wrong and unacceptable, and their unconditional release is an essential component of any return to normalcy, he continued. Meanwhile, as many as 1 million people have fled their homes to other parts of Gaza, he said, pointing out, however, that there is simply nowhere to go to for civilians to escape the destruction and privation. Warning against the real risk of the situation spiralling out of control, he stressed: “A humanitarian ceasefire would go a long way to easing the epic human suffering.”
In the ensuing discussion, many Council and non-Council members echoed the briefers’ calls for a cessation of hostilities, stressing that civilians must be protected always under international humanitarian law. Speakers lamented the Council’s inaction amid a conflict that could engulf the entire region, with some voicing support for Israel’s right to self-defence, while others stressed that the only way to end the conflict is through the two-State solution.
The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, emphasizing that there is no right to commit massacres in international law, said Israel is perpetrating massacres in Gaza every single day. “You all say civilian lives should be protected, yet some of you until now continue being unable to call for a stop to the assault and to call for an immediate ceasefire.” “Had the Council called for a ceasefire two days ago and acted accordingly, it would have saved hundreds of lives, but maybe for some saving hundreds of Palestinian lives is not such an important objective to pursue,” he added.
Pointing to the Council’s failure to provide serious and responsible leadership, he said the region is united in telling the Council that it is not possible to avert a human catastrophe and a regional spillover, while Israel continues its bombings and killing Palestinians. “The only way to prevent both is to stop this criminal aggression against our people,” he stressed. The war can and should be stopped immediately, he urged, warning that any further delay is a risk no one should take.
“What is going on here? I’m truly shocked and horrified,” said Israel’s representative, who emphasized that the Council it seems has forgotten about the most barbaric attack, bigger than the attacks of 11 September 2001. Thousands of “barbaric Hamas Nazis” invaded Israel and murdered 1,400 Israeli civilians, he recalled, emphasizing that Hamas’ goal is “the annihilation of Israel”. They do not believe in dialogue or political solutions, only to exterminate Jews and annihilate the Jewish State, he added.
He deplored that, 11 days after an attempted Jewish genocide, the Council has failed to condemn the brutal terror attack and is instead fixated on humanitarian corridors and aid. His country has footage and audio recording to prove that Al Ahli Arab Hospital was hit by a Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket and that the tragic loss of lives is the sole fault of Hamas. The Secretary-General has the obligation to verify facts before issuing a condemnation, he said, demanding an apology for the refusal to accept the evidence of a law-abiding democracy.
The representative of the United States, voicing support for Israel’s claim, said that her country’s national security team had gathered information, noting that, through overhead imagery and open-source information, “our current assessment is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion”. Palestinians in Gaza are suffering for no fault of their own, she said, stressing that Hamas bears responsibility for the situation, as its slaughter of Israeli civilians has wrought misery and destruction on Palestinians and the region.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates, noting that 1 million people are now displaced and more than 500,000 are sheltering in UN facilities, stressed: “The evacuation order for over a million people to try to move to safety is, in these circumstances, an impossible demand that fails to comply with international law.” Noting the deteriorating situation in Gaza and the widening regional conflagration, she called on leaders across the region and the international community to focus all efforts to secure a cessation of hostilities and a long-term political solution.
Also taking the floor were other non-Council members, many from Arab States, who also called on the Council to bring about an immediate ceasefire, the entry of humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip and the prevention of the forcible displacement of the people there. Among them was Jordan’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, who stressed that it is incumbent upon Member States to put an end to this war and immediately provide the necessary protections to Palestinians. Warning that the war has “entered a serious phase that will take the region to a disaster”, he said the international community and Council should take up its responsibility to end the bloodshed. The reason behind the conflict is the occupation, he said, and a solution is an independent Palestinian State.
TOR WENNESLAND, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, speaking from Doha via video link, said that he and the Secretary-General have briefed the Security Council extensively in private over the past days on details of the horrific and unprecedented events that have been unfolding, relaying their utter condemnation, shock and regret. “I have to be very honest here now and say that this is one of the most difficult moments facing the Israeli and Palestinian people in the last 75 years,” he said. “The massacre and despicable acts of violence and terror perpetrated by Hamas against Israelis on 7 October are seared into our collective memories. There is no justification or excuse for such acts, and I condemn them unequivocally.” The region and international community are facing a devastating and clearly difficult challenge that comes as global institutions that need to respond are already stretched. He said he feared the world is at the brink of a deep and dangerous abyss that could change the trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if not the entire Middle East.
After more than a century of conflict and more than half a century of occupation, the international community has failed, collectively, to bring the parties to a just, sustainable political resolution, he continued. The longstanding fissures run deep and extend well beyond the confines of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. “The events of the past 11 days have served to reignite grievances and reanimate alliances across the region,” he said. “The risk of an expansion of this conflict is real. Very, very real and extremely dangerous.” Since the outbreak of the current hostilities, he said he worked to diminish this existential threat. With the Secretary-General, he has constantly communicated with the broadest range of interlocutors: the parties and regional and international actors with agency or influence. He said authorities have assured him of their continued commitment to the Palestinian people, their humanitarian needs and their agreement to prevent further loss of civilian lives.
He said meetings and discussions with leaders in Egypt have focused on the critical question of facilitating the passage of humanitarian assistance through the Rafah crossing and reining in further regional hostilities. He said he will return to Cairo on 19 October to join the Secretary-General and welcomed Egypt President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s swift convocation of a summit of world leaders to take place on 21 October. He has had similar discussions with leaders in Lebanon and Jordan and others, and phone calls with key regional and international partners. “We all know the way forward,” he said. The first step is the time and space to achieve two urgent humanitarian objectives: Hamas’ immediate, unconditional release of all hostages and unrestricted access of humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.
The next step must be collective efforts to end the hostilities and prevent the conflict’s expansion in the region. “I am watching events in the West Bank and Lebanon very carefully and I am concerned,” he said. “There should be no miscalculation, no provocation and no step that closes the door to our current efforts.” The only way to end the bloodletting and prevent any recurrence is to pave a way towards a long-term political solution, in line with United Nations resolutions, international law and previous agreements. As he has stated in the Council many times, a patchwork of ad hoc and temporary fixes and perpetual management of conflict without addressing underlying issues is not sustainable. “What we are seeing on the ground now all too tragically proves this to be true,” he said. “What we must do now is work together as one to achieve these objectives.”
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, associating himself with the Special Coordinator, said that he was not just looking at the horrors of the last 11 days, but looking fearfully ahead at the horrors to come. He voiced his horror and despair at the attack on the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip on the evening of 17 October, noting that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it was 1 of 20 in northern Gaza subject to Israeli authorities’ announcement that civilians should leave for their safety. However, their evacuation had not been possible due to insecurity, the critical condition of many patients, the lack of ambulances and the capacity of the health system, which is on its knees in Gaza. When the hospital was hit, it had been fully operational and breached maximum capacity, overflowing with patients, including women and children, he said, voicing admiration for health-care workers’ commitment to stay steadfast by their patients’ side.
The hospital was also hosting numerous internally displaced persons sheltering in the expectation, or hope, that it would provide safety, he continued, adding: “They were wrong.” Noting reports indicated hundreds of fatalities, of civilians and health-care workers, he echoed calls for a fact-based inquiry to find out how this happened. He went on to stress that what happened on 7 October with the invasion of Israel and the taking of hostages still hidden away in Gaza was simply wrong, unconscionable and unacceptable, and their unconditional release is an essential component of any return to normalcy. Since 7 October, 28 health-care workers in Gaza have been killed and 23 injured, he said, adding that the destruction of the hospital put further pressure on the crumbling health-care system, and it deprives Gaza of a facility that cared for more than 45,000 patients per year before the current hostilities.
He went on to state, “I am compelled to reiterate that under international humanitarian law, there are simple requirements, simple rules of war that apply to all of us, whatever the provocation, and God knows there have been provocations: parties to armed conflict must protect civilians and civilian objects and take constant care to spare them. To ensure the wounded and sick receive the care they need.” In the 11 days since Palestinian armed groups attacked Israel on 7 October, the death toll has already exceeded that of the 2014 hostilities, which lasted more than seven weeks, he said, noting that, in Israel, 1,300 people have been killed and more than 4,200 injured, while nearly 200 remain captive. In Gaza, more than 3,000 people have been killed, more than 12,500 injured and hundreds are unaccounted for under the rubble, he said, noting that the toll included humanitarian workers, including 15 United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) staff and Red Cross and Red Crescent personnel.
As many as 1 million people have fled their homes to other parts of Gaza, he continued, noting that they did so in response to Israel’s announcement that civilians should leave northern Gaza. However, “There is simply nowhere to go to for civilians to escape the destruction and privation, both of which grow by the hour as missiles continue to fly, and essential supplies, including fuel, food and medical items run low.” UNRWA, due to water scarcity, has been forced to ration down to providing 1 litre of water per person per day, he said, adding that the minimum by international standards should be 15 litres. People have been forced to consume from unsafe sources, he said, emphasizing that all civilians must be protected, and they must have access to the essentials to survive. The UN and other humanitarian organizations have humanitarian supplies, medical teams and surge staff on standby, he said. However, he said: “What we don’t have, and what we desperately need, is immediate, safe humanitarian access across all of Gaza.”
He went on to note that, beyond Gaza, the situation has also been deteriorating in the West Bank, with last week the deadliest week for Palestinians there since the UN started recording fatalities in 2005 while settler violence incidents have gone up from an average of three incidents per day to eight. “There is real risk of the situation spiralling out of control,” he warned, calling for sanity and humanity to prevail, and for urgent efforts to arrest any further descent into this brutal calamity. “A humanitarian ceasefire would go a long way to easing the epic human suffering,” he said.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the 17 October attack on the hospital is the price of inertia by Council Members. He said Council members, guided by purely political considerations, did not support the Russian Federation’s draft resolution on 16 October. “Given the extremely tense situation, action should have been taken very promptly.” He added that once again it became clear that the position of Washington, D.C., and other Western capitals did not allow for a natural logical decision to be taken. He called on Israel “to prioritize international humanitarian law” for humanitarian access to be granted immediately. He said that assuming the Council is unable to formulate a clear response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis and potential for the conflict to spread, his country will initiate the resumption of the tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly on the protection of the civilians in Palestine for a comprehensive discussion of the situation regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and ways to settle it. A letter on this for the President of the Assembly has already been written and will be dispatched forthwith, he said.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) condemned the 17 October attacks which hit a hospital in Gaza, stressing that health units and their personnel must be protected in all circumstances. Israel’s right to legitimate self-defence must be exercised while upholding the principles of proportionality and distinction between combatants and civilians. Noting that millions of people are under siege in Gaza without water, food, gas or electricity, he called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and the opening of humanitarian corridors to assist civilians in need. All parties must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and allow unhindered humanitarian access. The international community must exhibit greater commitment to prevent other poles of violence in the region, he said, voicing concern about the exchange of fire between Israel and Hizbullah in the south of Lebanon. Diplomacy, dialogue and negotiation are the inescapable channels to achieve a solution, which guarantees the rights and interests of the parties, he said, stating: “The two-State solution still has no credible alternative.”
ZHANG JUN (China) expressed shock over the heinous attack on the Al Ahli Arab Hospital and strongly condemned it, adding that the protection of civilians and civilian facilities is a red line under international humanitarian law. The indiscriminate use of force is not acceptable, he said, urging Israel to adhere to international humanitarian law. “Look around in Gaza,” he said, describing tragedies unfolding all the time due to the total blockade imposed, reducing the supply of water, electricity and fuel. Tens of thousands of civilians had moved south, following evacuation orders, while air strikes are being carried out there as well, he said, adding that from north to south, Gaza is full of frightened children and desperate mothers. Without a humanitarian ceasefire, the humanitarian situation will continue to worsen, he said, warning that the end result would be not a complete military victory but a catastrophe that will engulf the entire region. He therefore echoed the call for an immediate ceasefire by Arab countries, stressing that the Council has no excuse for inaction and must take decisions that stand the test of history and conscience.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) condemned the 17 October attack on the hospital in Gaza, “which adds to the growing frustration and the human tragedy of this conflict”. He called for a full and transparent investigation of the incident and accountability. Since 7 October, the world has witnessed unimaginable horror in southern Israel and the Gaza Strip, he said, adding that many more lives will be lost if the fighting does not stop. The Council and wider international community’s foremost responsibility should be saving lives — all lives. He called for the release of hostages, halting of violence, and Israel restoring electricity and water supplies to Gaza and allowing humanitarian access of food and medicines. He underscored the importance of adherence to international law and international humanitarian law. He believed that reinvigorating the Middle East peace process is the most viable path for the international community to end the cycle of violence.
PASCALE CHRISTINE BAERISWYL (Switzerland) said her delegation joins the Secretary-General in unequivocally condemning yesterday’s strikes, particularly the one at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital. She repeated that civilian populations and civilian objects must be respected and protected. International humanitarian law also requires that hospitals, clinics and the people who are treated there, as well as the medical staff who work there, be protected. The same applies to the schools of UNRWA, which are civilian facilities of the Organization. All parties must respect international humanitarian law, particularly the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution, and human rights. It is necessary to investigate all violations of international law so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice. She recalled that the International Criminal Court is currently investigating the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which also covers current developments.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) said hospitals cannot be the target of attacks in any circumstances and as such there is no justification for what happened on 17 October. He unequivocally condemned Hamas’ unjustifiable terrorist attacks and demanded that hostages taken by them be immediately and unconditionally released. Hamas’ terrorist attacks do not represent the Palestinian people nor their inalienable right to self-determination. Israel’s exercise of its right to defend its people must uphold the principles of proportionality, distinction and humanity, he said, stressing that all efforts must be deployed to avoid causing death and pain among innocent civilians. He voiced support for the Secretary-General’s call to allow for rapid, unimpeded humanitarian access and called on all actors to exhibit restraint, avoid exacerbating tensions and prevent the expansion of violence to other zones. “The only way to end this conflict is through a negotiated, definitive and just solution for the parties with the two-State solution — Palestine and Israel on the basis of 1967 borders and relevant resolutions.”
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) voiced regret that, since 7 October, the Council has been unable to act as the situation worsened. He condemned the attack on the Al Ahli Arab Hospital claiming the lives of Palestinian civilians, adding: “Nothing can justify a strike on a hospital, and full light must be shed on this.” His delegation voted in favour of Brazil’s draft, which condemned acts of violence against civilians and called for urgent open humanitarian access. Civilians who wish to leave must be able to do so, and Hamas must not prevent them from leaving. He voiced unwavering solidarity with Israel in these testing times and emphasized its right to defend itself while adhering to international humanitarian law. France has provided €10 million in supplementary assistance for Gaza, which will go to UNRWA and the World Food Programme (WFP), among others. Noting the humanitarian as well as diplomatic nature of the crisis, he stressed the need to avoid a regional conflagration.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan) said his delegation is particularly appalled by the destruction of Al Ahli Arab Hospital. “Attacks against hospitals or civilians cannot be justified on any grounds,” he said. Humanitarian corridors must be established so humanitarian actors can safely deliver food, water, fuel and medicine to the population. He echoed the Secretary-General’s call on Israel to ensure rapid and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid to reach those in need. The risk of spillover, both regionally and globally, is real and the international community must choose a path that will bring all closer to peace, security and stability. He welcomed United States President Joseph R. Biden’s visit to Israel as well as engagements by other players that could urgently address the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. Japan is engaging with other Council members to find common ground to help the people in Gaza and prevent further escalation of the conflict.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) said hospitals are protected under international law and should not be targeted. Israel has the right, under the Charter of the United Nations, to defend itself against Hamas’ appalling terror attacks. Her delegation is clear that Hamas does not speak for the Palestinian people or act to protect their interests and security. She called for immediate, unimpeded humanitarian access to enable essential aid, water, food and medicines to reach civilians. She called for the opening of the Rafah crossing, guarantees of security for any foreign nationals wishing to cross, and for the entry of vital humanitarian aid. Further escalation of regional conflict must be prevented, and the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary are working urgently to engage Israeli, Palestinian and regional leaders. The United Kingdom will continue to work with partners in the international community to break the cycle of violence across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and work towards the peace and security of Israelis and Palestinians.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) said “the Middle East is in danger, one that we have not witnessed in decades.” He highlighted the humanitarian situation and called for the immediate release of hostages. Terrorism should not be condoned or glorified, “only condemned by all”. He noted that terrorism is harming both Palestinians and Israelis. Hamas is destroying the future of Palestine and its hope of statehood, he said. He supported Israel’s right to self-defence in a proportional manner, in line with the Charter of the United Nations, taking all care not to harm civilians. People in Gaza are entitled to care and protection, he said. He added that we must stick to facts and not judge by emotions, and perpetrators of the hospital attack must be held to account. Gaza is being destroyed, he said, adding that we should never resign from efforts to bring the peace process back on track. There is no alternative, no other possible solution to two States for two people living side-by-side, in peace, security and dignity.
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta) said the attacks that hit Al Ahli Arab Hospital tragically illustrate that there are no safe zones in Gaza and the Gazan population have nowhere to go. The safety of people must be assured and safe zones immediately established and respected by all parties. Those who have influence over the parties must underline the importance of respecting international humanitarian law, she stressed, calling for an immediate humanitarian pause and the establishment of humanitarian corridors. Voicing concern about the seven aid workers who lost their lives, she also called for the establishment of an effective humanitarian notification system in Gaza to protect civilians and aid workers alike. Her country will be doubling its contribution to UNRWA, she said, calling on donors to step up their contributions. A regional spillover, which would destabilize the entire region, must be prevented, she said, calling on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and commit to full de-escalation.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), noting that President Biden had spoken to these issues in Israel, voiced outrage at the explosion in Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. Noting that President Biden on the evening of 17 October directed his national security team to gather information about what happened, she said, through overhead imagery and open-source information, “our current assessment is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion.” The United States stands unequivocally for the protection of civilian life. Palestinians in Gaza are suffering for no fault of their own, she said, stressing that Hamas bears responsibility for the situation, as its slaughter of Israeli civilians has wrought misery and destruction on Palestinians and the region. Noting that Secretary-General António Guterres is on his way to the region, while President Biden is on the ground, she said that her country is providing $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
PEDRO COMISSÁRIO AFONSO (Mozambique) said his delegation strongly condemned these attacks on the civilian population and reiterated its call to the parties to de-escalate the tension, stop the bloodshed, halt the attacks and stop the human suffering in the occupied territories and Gaza Strip. Humanitarian assistance must reach desperate citizens immediately and unconditionally. Acknowledging the decades-long duration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said it is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach to resolve. His delegation firmly believes that Israel and Palestine can only resolve their differences through peace and dialogue. “We hold the view that peace is always possible, if the conflicting parties are genuinely willing to follow the path of justice and tolerance,” he said. He reiterated his appeal to Council members to redouble their role of influence towards a sustainable solution to the Palestinian situation, in full compliance with relevant resolutions, decisions and other instruments of the United Nations.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates), noting the nearly two-week relentless bombardment of Gaza, said 1 million people are now displaced and more than 500,000 are sheltering in UN facilities. Bombs are being dropped on UN schools where people are seeking safety, she added, stressing: “The evacuation order for over a million people to try to move to safety is, in these circumstances, an impossible demand that fails to comply with international law.” Hospitals and medical personnel must always be protected, she said, condemning the 17 October deadly attack on Al Ahli Arab Hospital. She called for an impartial, independent and transparent investigation of the incident. Earlier today, United Arab Emirates President Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan discussed with the Secretary-General clear and practical steps to be taken, she said, urging an immediate cessation of hostilities, unconditional and immediate release of all hostages and their humane treatment, as well as safe and unhindered access for all humanitarian aid workers. “The reconnection of electricity, water and telecommunications must happen, and protection of all civilians must be our priority,” she added, noting that her country has opened an air bridge to transport much needed supplies. However, without the firm guarantee from all parties that trucks and civilians gathering to receive aid will not be targeted, those supplies remain out of the hands of those who need them. Noting the deteriorating situation in Gaza and the widening regional conflagration, she called on leaders across the region and the international community to focus all possible efforts to secure a cessation of hostilities and a long-term political solution.
SÉRGIO FRANÇA DANESE (Brazil), Council President for October, speaking in his national capacity, was appalled by the catastrophic hospital strike, adding “it is simply abominable”. He said it shows again that civilians are the ones paying the ultimate price in this conflict. He condemned Hamas’ terrorism and hostage taking and called for the immediate release of hostages. He said any military response to terrorism must be conducted in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, international law and international humanitarian law. Air strikes and reckless use of heavy weapons have resulted in the tragic loss of life, including at UN schools, he said, adding “this is unacceptable”. He condemned actions depriving Gazan civilians of the essential means for survival in violation of international humanitarian law and urged an end to actions causing the forcible transfer of civilians and those inconsistent with international law. Such moves will fuel the conflict more, he said. How it deals with the crisis will say a great deal about the future of the UN and multilateralism as a whole, he said.
RIYAD H. MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, emphasizing that there is no right to commit massacres in international law, said Israel is perpetrating massacres in Gaza every single day, pointing to the killing of entire families, and the bombing of shelters, schools and hospitals. He stressed: “You all say civilian lives should be protected, yet some of you until now continue being unable to call for a stop to the assault and to call for an immediate ceasefire.” Those who cannot or will not call for a ceasefire will lose any credibility or authority and hold some of the responsibility for the devastation that is occurring now. “Had the Council called for a ceasefire two days ago and acted accordingly, it would have saved hundreds of lives, but maybe for some saving hundreds of Palestinian lives is not such an important objective to pursue,” he added.
The region is united in telling the Council that it is not possible to avert a human catastrophe and a regional spillover, while Israel continues its bombings and killing Palestinians, he said. “The only way to prevent both is to stop this criminal aggression against our people,” he stressed, emphasizing that for 75 years, Israel has brazenly justified how it had to dispossess the Palestinian people or occupy their land in full impunity. “Killing more Palestinians will never make Israel more secure,” he underscored. The war can and should be stopped immediately, he urged, warning that any further delay is a risk no one should take.
The Council should have met today to heed the call of the Secretary-General and religious leaders around the world, as well as of millions marching on the streets, to stop the bloodshed now. “In the next few hours, more Palestinians will be killed. Tensions in the region will rise to new dangerous levels and anger and resentment will explode,” he warned. The Council’s failure to shoulder its responsibility will mark public opinion in the region and the world for a very long time and will affect people’s belief in the protections of the law for all. “This was not a moment to foster more despair and more impunity. This was not a moment to make the same mistakes that got us here in the first place,” he said. Israel has now killed 3,500 Palestinians, almost all of them civilians, including more than 1,000 children, but will blame Palestinians for their own death as it has always done. “These are serious times, and they require serious and responsible leadership — one this Council has failed to provide.” Some members are losing an opportunity to change the region for the better, he said, voicing hope that they will change course before it is too late.
GILAD MENASHE ERDAN (Israel), stating, “What is going on here? I’m truly shocked and horrified,” said that 11 days after the most barbaric attack, bigger than 9/11, it seems the Council has forgotten about it. “The pictures and footage from the 7 October pogrom are seared in mind and every Israeli’s brain forever, but it seems like I must remind some of you what happened,” he said, recalling that thousands of “barbaric Hamas Nazis” invaded Israel and murdered 1,400 Israeli civilians, with some raped, others beheaded, some burned alive while bound and gagged. Many paramedics were murdered on way to treat the wounded, and mothers watched as their babies were slaughtered, he said, stressing: “This attack was planned and carried out by the terrorists ruling Gaza as we speak.” As many as 200 hostages were taken, including many nationals of Council members’ countries, he said, recalling that Hamas’ Charter does not constitute empty threats, but an action plan, adding: “Their goal is the annihilation of Israel.”
Hamas is no different than Da’esh, he went on, adding that they do not believe in dialogue or political solutions, only to exterminate Jews and annihilate the Jewish State. The approach to a cancer is the evisceration of every cancerous cell, he said, adding that complete obliteration is the only way to ensure such atrocities are never repeated. He deplored that, 11 days after an attempted Jewish genocide, the Council has failed to condemn the brutal terror attack, and is instead fixated on humanitarian corridors and aid, adding: “These are important and noble causes, but they are not a solution to prevent Hamas’ next massacre.” In the 18 years since Hamas was elected, he said, it has converted every inch of Gaza into a war machine, amassing terrorist infrastructure below densely populated residential areas. Since then, it sends tens of thousands of rockets at Israel while hiding behind civilians, he added.
“Once Israel strikes back, they can parade the civilian bodies they hide behind,” he continued, adding that Hamas is weaponizing the UN to prevent his country from obliterating them. “But here we are again discussing humanitarian corridors,” he said, “how ludicrous” he deplored that “the claims of baby-killing terrorists are being uttered in the Council without a second thought,” stressing that information coming from the Gaza Strip is not the truth, but what Hamas wants the world to hear. He said that his country has footage and audio recording to prove that Al Ahli Arab Hospital was hit by a Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket and that the tragic loss of lives is the sole fault of Hamas. The Secretary-General has the obligation to verify facts before issuing a condemnation, he said, demanding an apology for the refusal to accept the evidence of a law-abiding democracy.
MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH HMOUD (Jordan), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said the fair voice of the international community and any effective international action to protect Gazans was lacking. He condemned the heinous massacre by the Israel Defense Forces on 17 October “against innocent civilians receiving care” at the hospital, calling it a war crime. He called on the Council to bring about an immediate ceasefire and for humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip, and the prevention of the forcible displacement of people there. He said that the heinous crimes of the occupation contravene the rules of international law. He recalled Council resolution 2286 (2016) that provided for those working in medical facilities and health care to not be targeted and called for their adequate protection. He called for Israel to be held accountable for the “massacres and crimes it continues to commit against the defenceless Palestinian people”. The hospital attack does not come out of a vacuum. Israel said it will not respect the humanitarian and moral values which see that hospitals should be protected, he said, noting that it had given a warning to 20 medical institutions, including the one hit on 17 October, shortly before the attack.
It’s incumbent upon us to put an end to this war and provide the necessary protections to Palestinians immediately, he said. This war against innocent civilians has “entered a serious phase that will take the region to a disaster”. The international community and Council should take up its responsibility to end the bloodshed. The reason behind the conflict is the occupation, he said, and a solution was an independent Palestinian State.
OSAMA MAHMOUD ABDELKHALEK MAHMOUD (Egypt) stressed that the “crime committed on 17 October [against Al Ahli Arab Hospital] is a new chapter in a long series of violations which did not begin on 8 October but much earlier”. They began when the occupation began, he added. Voicing concern about the unimaginable risks to the region and international peace and security, he stressed: “They shouldn’t recycle narratives accusing us of terrorism.” Condemning all crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians, he said Israel attempts to evade responsibility, while certain international parties cover for it with false excuses. He urged an immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities, the guaranteed protection of civilians and the provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians. Moreover, he said the so-called evacuation order by Israel — one of the most abominable instances of forced transfer of populations in the modern era — must be withdrawn. The international community must put an end to hate speech, the justification of crimes against Palestinian people and their demonization. Detainees and hostages must be freed, and they must be treated in keeping with international law the principle of humanity, he added. Egypt has been working to help the Palestinian people restore peace and has called for the convening of an emergency humanitarian summit in Cairo on 21 October with the participation of all international and regional parties affected by the crisis. He urged the Council to shoulder its responsibility and put an end to the war waged by Israel against innocent and unarmed people who only want to enjoy their fundamental rights and live in freedom and dignity.
MOHAMED AL HASSAN (Oman), speaking on behalf of the Gulf Operational Council and aligning with the Arab Group, voiced regret that the Council failed, earlier in the week, to take tangible steps to maintain peace and security and avoid an escalation of the situation in the Middle East, adding that the result of this inaction was more murder and collective punishment and the killing of innocent souls. “This is not a new situation with Israel,” he said, pointing out that the Council has, for 75 years, been unable to find a fair and lasting solution to the situation, and that international law, including resolutions it has adopted itself, including Council resolution 2334 (2016), are respected. The massacre at Al Ahli Arab Hospital, resulting in 500 martyrs, represents a dangerous escalation, he said, asking: “Isn’t this a violation of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention?”
Since the past few days, Israel has dropped the equivalent of quarter of a nuclear bomb on the Gaza Strip, he said, adding that the violence has killed many Palestinians every hour, levelled 17,000 residential buildings and 18 mosques, a toll which continues to increase. He called for accountability for the collective punishment and famine, “criminal acts practiced by Nazis which have no place in today’s world”. He called on the Council to shoulder its responsibility and end the blind bombing of Palestinian neighbourhoods, deploring double standards and selectivity. “What are we waiting for? More massacres? More torture?” he asked. Overlooking the path of reason and justice will not lend itself to the Council’s credibility or ensure stability in the Middle East, he said, stressing: “Prove to us, prove to us, that there are no States above the law, even if this State is Israel.”
TAHER M. T. ELSONNI (Libya), aligning himself with the Arab Group and the Gulf Cooperation Council, condemned the attack on the hospital. “This is a murderous machine that is boasting of its power,” he said of Israel. He asked if this is collective punishment, which might constitute a crime against humanity. “It seems you are waiting for another Rwanda.” He regretted that the Council could not agree to a resolution on the crisis, while the people of Gaza face crimes against humanity. If we had adopted the Russian Federation’s resolution a few days ago maybe we would have saved lives, he said. The events are the product of the racism being waged on the Palestinian people; this policy denies them of the rights enshrined in international law. “The bloodbath has been happening for decades, thousands of civilians have perished. This must end.” Double standards adopted by many countries, especially Western States, must stop, he said. You cannot boil the Palestinian issue down to what happened on 7 October, you have to see the broader context and the colonization policies, he said. He saw no solution aside from justice and an independent Palestinian State.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia), aligning himself with the Arab Group, said the brutal aggression perpetrated by the occupying forces is a new link in the chain of atrocities perpetrated every day against the Palestinians amid the international community’s deafening silence. He condemned the bombardment of the hospital in Gaza and called for an end to impunity in war crimes and genocide perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians. He also called on the international community to shoulder its moral and legal responsibility to put an end to the occupying forces’ decades’ long policies of aggression and forcible displacement and killing of Palestinians. The Council’s failure to adopt a resolution on the humanitarian situation in Gaza proves yet again that the international community has failed to take a stance against the occupying Power’s perpetration of carnage, he stressed. The international community must adopt a ceasefire, prevent the forcible displacement of the people of Gaza and guarantee humanitarian aid access to them, he urged, stressing: “Every single minute of delay in shouldering this responsibility is equal to hundreds of casualties.” Long-overdue justice must be served to the Palestinian people by putting an end to the occupation and restoring their rights in a sovereign and independent Palestinian State, he added.
AMAR BENDJAMA (Algeria) voiced regret that the Council, for the seventh consecutive year, failed to shoulder its responsibilities and adopt a substantial resolution to the Palestinian question. Over 60 per cent of the casualties from air strikes over the past 10 days are children and women, he said, stressing: “This is not a war against Hamas, but a war against Palestinian children, women and the elderly.” Condemning the deliberate attack on civilians in the Gaza Strip by occupying forces and the strike against the Al Ahli Arab Hospital, he said: “There can be no justification for targeting hospitals, clinics, medical personnel and UN facilities.” He underscored the need to adequately address the humanitarian needs of the affected population and for the occupying Power to lift its siege, collaborate with humanitarian agencies and rescind its order to evacuate northern Gaza. Any attempt to equate the Palestinian people and the occupying Power is unacceptable, he said, stating that the ongoing assault on a defenceless Palestinian population is a crime against humanity.
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) said that the entire Palestinian population is being “collectively punished by the indiscriminate Israeli attacks”. He condemned Israel’s cowardly attack on the hospital. This wilful atrocity, he said, is clearly a war crime and a crime against humanity, and those responsible must be held accountable through a full international inquiry on this issue and other crimes committed against this country. He supported an immediate ceasefire. He said that Brazil’s resolution needed improvement, but his country was surprised that it was not approved due to a veto. He expected the General Assembly to address this conflict, and hoped it, the Secretary-General and UN agencies will be able to halt the conflict, allow for humanitarian corridors, and prevent the displacement of Gazan population. He said that the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Executive Committee of Foreign Ministers met today and proposed the dispatch of an international protection force to protect innocent lives from the ongoing attacks by the occupation forces and extremist colonialist settlers. He called for the UN to urgently consider this proposal.
MATHU JOYINI (South Africa) condemned in the strongest terms the killings of civilians in Palestine and Israel, noting that the targeting of civilians in armed conflict violate international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention. The targeting of a hospital considered as a safe haven under international humanitarian law is a war crime, as are the killing of the people of Gaza by Israel in 12 days of aerial bombardments of hospitals, schools, apartment buildings and essential infrastructure. She called on the international community to end its indifference to the gross violations against the Palestinian people in Gaza, and on the UN and the Security Council to take enforcement action to halt the unfolding genocide. Voicing regret that the Council was not able to adopt a basic resolution on the humanitarian situation in Palestine, she called for an immediate ceasefire and the immediate opening of a humanitarian corridor. She further called on Israel to cease its genocidal campaign against the Palestinians, and on the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to immediately signal his intent to investigate the bombing of the Al Ahli Arab Hospital, as well as other war crimes and the crime of genocide in this conflict.
ALHAKAM DANDY (Syria), aligning himself with the Arab Group, deploring the “bloody crime against humanity” taking place in Israel’s aggression against Palestine, condemned the “carnage by Zionist criminal forces against hundreds of innocents in Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza”. The massacre could have been averted had Western States not obstructed the adoption of the resolution tabled two days ago by the Russian Federation, he said, adding that the Council’s persistent silence and indifference to Israel’s “criminal approach” had emboldened them. He deplored Israel’s continuing damage of civilian infrastructure, its inhumane blockade, and its siege, its use of prohibited weapons and obstruction of aid, in its “savage” attempt to obliterate Gaza from the face of Earth. Of the attack on the hospital, he said: “How low has their contempt of humanity reached?”, likening their “scare-mongering” to the other side of the terrorists Da’esh. The events unfolding did not start on 7 October, but decades ago, with Israel’s persistent denial of Palestine’s independent statehood and its accompanying occupation. He also deplored Israel’s recent assaults against airports in Damascus and Aleppo in its pursuit of war in the region. The United States, by backing Israel, bears responsibility for the carnage perpetrated by them, he said. The Council must stop its silence, shoulder its responsibility and call for a ceasefire.
ABBAS KADHOM OBAID AL-FATLAWI (Iraq), aligning himself with the Arab Group, said that over a decade the Council had held tens of meetings on the situation in Palestine and crimes against humanity against the Palestinian people, yet it has not led to binding measures. This has encouraged Israel to continue committing its crimes, he said. He condemned the strike on the Al Ahli Arab Hospital and said that it was an extension of crimes by Israel over decades. He called on the international community and the Council in particular to maintain peace and security by bringing an end to these massacres. The Council must stop applying selectivity and take immediate measures to lift the blockade and allow humanitarian assistance, he said. He added that the Government of Iraq is dispatching humanitarian and medical aid to Gaza.
BJÖRN OLOF SKOOG, Permanent Observer for the European Union, in its capacity as observer, first recalled the basic principles of international humanitarian law: the protection of all civilians must be ensured at all times. “Attacks against civilian infrastructure are illegal,” he said. The Union has been clear as it condemns Hamas and its brutal and indiscriminate terrorist attacks against Israel. He called for the immediate release of all hostages without any preconditions. “There is no justification for terrorism. We support Israel’s right to defend itself in line with humanitarian and international law, in the face of such violent and indiscriminate attacks,” he said. It is vital to provide urgent humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza and the European Union has stepped up its emergency assistance to the Palestinian people. It has tripled its humanitarian assistance to €75 million to support civilians in need in Gaza.
Other humanitarian actions include the launching of a European Union humanitarian air bridge operation with several flights to Egypt to bring life-saving supplies to humanitarian organizations on the ground in Gaza. This includes shelter items, medicines and hygiene kits. Additional emergency items from the bloc’s emergency stockpiles are ready to be deployed to its humanitarian partners as soon as requested. The Union remains committed to a lasting and sustainable peace based on the two-State solution through reinvigorated efforts in the Middle East peace process. He underlined the need to engage broadly with the legitimate Palestinian authorities, as well as regional and international partners, who could have a positive role to play in preventing further escalation.