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My briefing to the #UN Security Council in November focused on the precarious calm in #Gaza and the necessary next steps

19/11/2018 Leave a comment

Today I briefed the UN Secuirty Council on recent developments, starting with the dangerous escalation of violence in Gaza that risked unleashing an armed conflict with catastrophic consequences for two million impoverished Palestinian people who live under the control of Hamas and have endured three wars and crippling Israeli closures.

The Secretary-General warned that a new war in Gaza would bring forth another unbearable tragedy and urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint.

My team and I worked closely with Egypt and all concerned parties to ensure a return to the 2014 ceasefire

arrangements. Thankfully, a precarious restoration of calm has now been achieved. We must all work to ensure that this calm is maintained.

The period of 11-13 November saw one of the fiercest exchanges of fire since the 2014 Gaza conflict. The escalation was triggered by an operation by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) insidethe Gaza Strip in which a local commander of Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades and six other Palestinians were killed. One IDF officer was also killed and a second was injured in the incident.

In the following two days, militants in Gaza launched some 450 rockets and mortars at Israel, including at the towns of Ashkelon, Sderot and Netivot, killing one Palestinian civilian and seriously wounding one Israeli civilian. An IDF soldier was also seriously wounded by a targeted anti-tank guided-missile strike on a bus transporting military personnel in K’far Aza.

The IDF responded in turn with a series of airstrikes on 160 militant targets, including a Hamas- affiliated TV station and a hotel, resulting in the killing seven Palestinians – at least four identified by the Israeli Army as members of armed groups.

The fragility of the situation underscores the urgency to fundamentally change the dynamics on the ground, that address the underlying political issues.

Two million Palestinians in Gaza cannot be held hostage to political grandstanding and brinkmanship. Their lives matter and they deserve real leadership that addresses the real problems of Gaza.

The latest outbreak of violence came just as the United Nations and its partners were intensifying efforts to alleviate Gaza’s deepening humanitarian and economic crises, and, critically, to provide space for ongoing Egyptian-led efforts to advance intra-Palestinian reconciliation. This is essential to ending the occupation and resolving the wider political conflict.

Significant headway has already been made on the implementation of the package of urgent interventions endorsed by the September Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) meeting in New York.

In October, the United Nations started importing and monitoring the delivery of donor-funded fuelto Gaza’s power plant. This resulted in the greatest supply of electricity since March 2017, a minimum of eleven hours per day. I reiterate the United Nations sincere gratitude to the Government of the State of Qatar for its generous funding to this end.

The impact has been immediate: water supply has increased, the risk of sewage overflow has been reduced; hospitals are less dependent on precarious generators; street lights are on again; children can study and play more; and families have more cash in hand to meet their daily needs.

These improvements however are temporary. They provide much needed relief, but can do little to reverse the longstanding, structural problems affecting Gaza, driven by years of crippling closures and Hamas control.

Implementation of the other urgent humanitarian interventions in Gaza must also be expedited. My team and I will continue to engage with the Palestinian Government, with donors and partners on the ground, to support several initiatives. These include finding a sustainable solution to Gaza’selectricity and health problems, increasing the supply of potable water, medical supplies and sewage treatment. These should take place alongside concerted efforts to rescue the economy through cash-for-work and other emergency measures.

Yet, the international community cannot bear the burden of addressing Gaza’s problems alone. The primary responsibility falls on the parties themselves.

The clock on intra-Palestinian reconciliation is ticking.

I urge all Palestinian parties to not waste time and engage in earnest and achieve visible progress in the coming six months. This is in the interest of the Palestinian people. It is in the interests of peace. The success of international efforts in Gaza depends on the parties’ willingness to confront the inevitable hurdles, withstand the internal political consequences, and stay committed to the reconciliation process over the long-term.

If any side fails, every side fails.

Hamas and militant groups must stop all provocations and attacks,

Israel must significantly improve the movement and access of goods and people to and from Gaza as a step towards the lifting of the closures, in line with UNSCR 1860; and the Palestinian Authority must strengthen its engagement in Gaza, which is an integral part of the Palestinian territory.

In earlier incidents, before the most recent escalation on 26-27 October, 34 rockets were launched by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) towards Israel. In response, the IDF targeted 95 Hamas and PIJ military sites across the Strip; a hospital in the vicinity of one of the targets was damaged as were several homes in Gaza City.

On 28 October, the IDF struck and killed three Palestinian children aged 13 to 15 in the southern Gaza Strip, who they said were placing an improvised explosive devices at the security fence, a claim refuted by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Protests the next day saw some 3,000 participants, with one Palestinian killed and another 15 injured by IDF live fire.

I remain very concerned by Israel’s persistent use of live fire against protestors. I call on the authorities to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from using lethal force, except as a last resort.

I urge Hamas and other Palestinian militants to end the indiscriminate firing of rockets into southern Israel,

and to stop all violence near the fence, including attempts to breach it.

Overall in the reporting period, the Israeli Security Forces (ISF) killed 31 Palestinians Gaza, including four children. One IDF soldier was killed during the 11 November operation in Gaza.Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank, ISF killed four Palestinians.

On 22 October, ISF shot and killed a Palestinian man in Hebron, after he was reported to have stabbed and injured an Israeli soldier. Three other attempts against Israeli civilians or ISF personnel were reported near the Kiryat Arba and K’far Adumim settlements on 5 and 6 November, and in Jerusalem on 14 November.

On 24 October, a 21-year-old Palestinian man was shot and killed by the IDF during clashes following an IDF weapons search near Tubas in the northern West Bank. On 26 October, in the context of clashes between Israeli settlers and Palestinians near Ramallah, ISF shot and killed a 33-year-old Palestinian and injured nine others; another 28-year-old Palestinian subsequently died of his wounds later in November.

Israeli settlement activity continued to advance, eating away at the viability of a contiguous future Palestinian state. I reiterate that all settlement activities are illegal under international law, and an obstacle to peace and must immediately cease.

On 5 November, Israeli authorities advanced two plans for a total of 264 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramot. Demolition and confiscation of Palestinian-owned structures also continued with a total of 31 structures demolished or seized by the authorities, citing lack of building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain in Israeli-controlled Area C and East Jerusalem. As a result, some 25 people were displaced and, according to OCHA, the livelihoods of 200 others were affected.

Meanwhile, on 4 November, the Israeli authorities informed the High Court of Justice of their decision to demolish an illegal outpost comprising some dozen Israeli families that had been established in recent months in an abandoned military base in the Jordan Valley.

I welcome the announcement by the authorities on 21 October to delay the demolition of Khan al Ahmar-Abu al Helu and reiterate the call by the international community for plans for the demolition of this community and all others facing similar pressures to be annulled.

On 28 and 29 October, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Council (PCC) held its 30th session in Ramallah. In its final statement, the PCC reaffirmed recent decisions taken to suspend recognition of the State of Israel until the latter recognizes the State of Palestine on the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, end security coordination in all its forms, and disengage economically from Israel. A follow-up committee chaired by President Mahmoud Abbas was established to discuss implementing these decisions.

The situation in Lebanon will be considered by the Council this week. Political actors have yet to find agreement on a national unity government. The delay hampers Lebanon’s abilityto address issues essential to its stability, including the economy. We again encourage all stakeholders to put the national interest first and expeditiously reach an agreement that preservesLebanon’s stability and its ability to deliver on its international commitments.

In closing I made two important points.

First on Gaza. It is vital that all stakeholders work to de-escalate the deteriorating situation and seize the current window of opportunity to advance urgent humanitarian and economic interventions in line with the AHLC conclusions. I would also like to reiterate the importance of sustained support to UNRWA and extend our gratitude to the State of Kuwait for the swift disbursement of its USD42 million contribution to the Agency.

Palestinian factions must seize the opportunity to engage in earnest with the Egyptian-led efforts to bring Gaza back under the control of the legitimate Palestinian Government.

We in the international community must do all we can to support these efforts. Israel must also recognize that Gaza is about to explode, and to prevent such an explosion, people must also see a normalization of their lives, for which the closures need to be relaxed and ultimately lifted.

We cannot stand idle and allow the division between the West Bank and Gaza to be further entrenched.

The Palestinian people are demanding that their leadership finally re-unites Gaza and the West Bank and advances their goal of peacefully ending the Israeli occupation and establishing a viable Palestinian state based on relevant UN resolutions.

This is what people desire, and this is what they deserve.

Second on the broader peace efforts. It is essential that we prevent further collapse of the foundations that must underpin any future agreement. We must continue to consistently push back against the entrenchment of the military occupation and the erosion of the international consensus on the final status issues.

Together, we must work with determination and with vigilance to establish an environment conducive to the return to negotiations that will end the Israeli -Palestinian conflict, in line with the 2016 Middle East Quartet report recommendations. The United Nations remains firmly committed to advancing all efforts towards a just and lasting Israeli- Palestinian peace based on relevant United Nations resolutions.

#UN and #Egypt efforts to difuse growing tensions continue as latest #Gaza rocket fits pattern of provocations that seeks to bring #Israel and Gaza closer to war

17/10/2018 1 comment

Earlier today I met with the President of Israel Reuven Rivlin. The meeting took place against the backdrop of escalation as in the early hours of 17 October, Palestinian militants fired a rocket from central Gaza towards Israel that hit a residential house in the city of Be’er Sheva, causing extensive damage. Three people were reportedly injured. A second rocket reportedly landed in the sea southwest of Tel Aviv. The Israeli Air Force responded with a series of airstrikes on a number of locations which they identified as military sites around Gaza and open fields. Media report two Palestinians killed and two injured in a strike on a group said to be launching rockets.

This is what I said at the start of the meeting: “Thank you very much, Mr President, for this important meeting. I look forward to briefing you on our efforts. I am afraid that the last 24 hours have been particularly complicated. The latest rockets that were fired from Gaza towards Beer Sheva are a dangerous escalation of the situation. Unfortunately, they fit a pattern of provocations that seek to bring Israel and Gaza into another deadly conflict and confrontation. It is our responsibility to do everything possible to avoid that confrontation and I want to assure you that over the last three months we have worked very actively with all parties – with the government of Israel, with the Palestinian Authority, with the regional players, particularly with Egypt and the international community  – to pursue three goals. Firstly, to avoid a war which would be devastating for the people of Gaza and for the Israelis who live across the border. Secondly, to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of the people who live in really terrible conditions. And thirdly, to support our joint efforts with Egypt to bring the legitimate Palestinian Authority back into control of Gaza. This is the only path forward and we need to make sure that in the next 48 hours we really see a de-escalation on the ground so that these efforts can continue in the interests of peace between Israelis and Palestinians and in the interests of peace in the entire region. I am afraid that there is no more time for words. Now is the time for actions. And we must see very clear actions on all sides that bring the situation to a de-escalation. Otherwise, the consequences will be terrible for everyone. I look forward to discussing with you what can be done in order to de-escalate this environment and to move forward in a constructive manner. “

The cycle of violence in Gaza needs to end and the international community must step in to prevent another war

15/05/2018 Leave a comment

UN_Palestine_58245-780x520On 15 May the Polish Presidency of the UN Security Council called an emergency session on the situation in Gaza. For the people of Gaza the previous day was a day of tragedy. There are no other words with which to describe what actually happened. There is no justification for the killing. There is no excuse.  It serves no one. It certainly does not serve the cause of peace.

My heart weighed heavy as I had to brief the Council and began by expressing my condolences to the families of those killed yesterday and the last six weeks of demonstrations in Gaza. Who can possibly find words to console the mother of a child that has been killed? I called on all

join me in condemning in the strongest possible terms the actions that have led to the loss of many lives in Gaza.

Israel has a responsibility to calibrate its use of force, to not use lethal force, except as a last resort, under imminent threat of death or serious injury. It must protect its borders, but it must do so proportionally and investigate every incident that has led to a loss of human life.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, must not use the protests as cover to attempt to place bombs at the fence and create provocations; its operatives must not hide among the demonstrators and risk the lives of civilians.

Tens of thousands of people in Gaza have been protesting for over six weeks now. People who live in abject poverty, who survive in prison-like conditions, who live with no prospect for the day after. These people want their voices heard; they want a future beyond mere survival. Their leaders have failed them. The promises they have made to them have not been delivered. And now the people are angry. But their anger, if not channelled in a constructive manner will lead to more destruction and suffering. Whatever we may think of their motivation, we have an obligation to hear their plight.

They have lived through three devastating conflicts. Their lives are marked by personal anguish, scarred by a national tragedy, marred by daily suffering caused by leaders, who use them for their own political ends. For ten years, they have lived under the control of Hamas, separated from their families in the West Bank, isolated behind crippling Israeli closures.

This cycle of violence in Gaza needs to end,

for it to end we need everyone of us to prevent and explosion that will drag everyone in the region into another deadly confrontation.

The international community must step in and prevent war, we need to move forward quickly and effectively on all projects that we have been discussed for months and months to solve the energy, water and health crisis of the population. We can only do this in coordination with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt. But before all that, the senseless violence needs to stop.

On 14 May, an estimated 35,000 people participated in demonstrations in Gaza and hundreds in the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Nablus, and in East Jerusalem — all part of the “Great March of Return”, as well as in protest of the relocation of the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. While no fatalities were reported in the West Bank, where limited clashes took place between demonstrators and Israeli security forces at several checkpoints, the situation in Gaza deteriorated throughout the day, particularly along the perimeter fence.

According to various reports at least 60 people were killed throughout yesterday, including six children, and more than 1,300 were reportedly injured by live ammunition and rubber bullets. One Israeli soldier was wounded and taken to hospital for treatment.

Since the beginning of the protests on 30 March, over one hundred people have been killed, including thirteen children, over half of whom yesterday alone. This constituted the bloodiest day in Gaza, with the highest death and injury toll, since the conflict of 2014.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have acknowledged that among those killed were members of their organizations, and the Israeli Defense Forces claims that at least 24 had links to militant activities.

Under cover of the protests Hamas and other militants have also engaged in violent and provocative acts, including the placing of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at the perimeter fence and other attempts to breach it with the intent of perpetrating attacks. According to UNDSS, at least one IED reportedly detonated against an IDF vehicle during an incursion. Eighteen airstrikes and eight shelling incidents were also carried out by the Israeli security forces on 26 Hamas targets in retaliation for what Israel has classified as violent acts.

Against this backdrop, hospitals in Gaza report an unfolding crisis of essential medical supplies, drugs and equipment needed to treat the injured. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator, who is currently in Gaza, yesterday visited Shifa Hospital, where there is a shortage of beds for the number of wounded arriving from the protests at the fence. He witnessed first-hand patients being brought in on stretchers and left in the hospital’s courtyard, which was being used as a triage area.

I appealed to Israel, to Egypt, to the Palestinian authorities, to facilitate the exit from Gaza of the seriously wounded for medical treatment and I welcome steps reportedly taken in this direction by Egypt.

I took this opportunity to

salute the bravery of the medical staff who continue to put their own lives at risk,

such as those working for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, who have endured casualties of their own. I am deeply saddened to note the death of another health worker yesterday during the demonstrations and I reiterate the inviolability under international law of health facilities and medical personnel. Journalists have also been among those injured in yesterday’s demonstrations.

The dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, about which I have reported time and again to the Security Council over the past year, has been compounded by the fact that the Palestinian Authority continues to withhold the payment of salaries to some 20,000 civil service employees in Gaza.

To further complicate a dismal picture, on the 4th and on the 11th of May, Palestinian demonstrators destroyed most of the facilities on the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main point of entry for goods and materials into the Gaza Strip. Members of my team have conducted an initial assessment of the site and I can report that the damage is extensive and will hinder deliveries of fuel and much needed goods to Gaza for weeks ahead. As we speak, the United Nations is working with Israel and the Palestinian Authority and with Israel to bring in life-saving assistance, despite the destruction and extensive damage to the crossing. Whoever orchestrated that destruction shares in the responsibility of worsening the suffering of two million people in Gaza.

The Secretary-General and I have repeatedly called on

all to exercise restraint, for all necessary steps to avoid an escalation and for all incidents to be fully investigated.

I have engaged with all sides to this effect. Public statements and messages by Hamas indicate the intention to use mass protests to infiltrate into Israel and attack Israelis. Such statements and action endanger the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians and cannot be justified.

It is imperative that civilians, particularly children, not be targeted by anyone, not be used as a cover for militant activity, or be put at risk or in danger in any way.

As the violence continues, technical problems have also resurfaced in further decreasing electricity supply and have currently caused some 22 hours of blackouts in Gaza. This is a critical reminder of the fragility of Gaza’s infrastructure.  Starting tomorrow, the United Nations, together with international partners will need to focus and redouble efforts to implement projects that will have an immediate impact on improving the electricity, water and health situation as a matter of urgency.

The developments in Gaza are a painful reminder, and extremely painful reminder, of the devastating consequences of the continued absence of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I would like to reiterate this message, particularly as Palestinians commemorate “Nakba” day or “the day of the Catastrophe”, by which they remember the displacement during the war of 1948-1949, and as they continue to demonstrate in Gaza and the West Bank over the coming days. We must step up our efforts in support of a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

We must collectively call on all to refrain from unilateral measures that only steer us away from a peace process and instead work to end the occupation and advance the goal of a just and sustainable peace, culminating ultimately in two states, Israel and Palestine – of which Gaza is an integral part – two states living side by side in peace, security and prosperity.

A conflagration of Middle East conflicts is raising tensions in Syria, Yemen, and on the Palestinian track

11/05/2018 Leave a comment

untitledOn May 11 I visited Moscow for discussions on the Middle East with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. Here is what I said to the media at the beginning of our meeting:

“… We are very concerned that there is a conflagration of conflicts currently in the Middle East that are raising tensions on all levels, including the situation in Syria, the situation in Yemen, and most certainly on the Palestinian track.

On the Palestinian track, we feel that there [is a] combination of three very important factors coming together now. Firstly, is the lack of a political process that brings the Israelis and the Palestinians together on the basis of internationally recognized parameters for solving the conflict and for achieving the two-state solution. The Secretary-General has made it very clear that there is no Plan B except the two-state solution; for Israel and Palestine to live in peace and security together. Secondly, we have the problem with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza which is extremely dangerous. The economy has collapsed. We are seeing on a daily basis the suffering of people that needs to be addressed very quickly. Thirdly, there are the security incidents that can always bring us back into another confrontation on the ground.

We are working very hard to avoid all of these risks and to find a way to bring back the Middle East Quartet as the key forum in which we discuss both the political process and the perspectives for resolving the conflict. But also, to put the Israeli-Palestinian situation in a broader regional context that it is important today.

I’m particularly worried about today and the coming days with the US embassy move to Jerusalem on Monday and with the planned protests in Gaza and take this opportunity again to call on Israel to be very careful and calibrated in how it uses force in addressing the protestors in Gaza. But I also call on Hamas and the leaders of the protests in Gaza to prevent friction and to prevent situations in which provocations can happen.

Nobody in the Middle East now needs another war and we need to make everything that we can possible to prevent such a conflict and to find the political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian track just as every other conflict in the Middle East; be that Yemen or Syria or elsewhere, demands a political rather than a military solution. Thank you again and I look forward to our discussions with you later today.”

Link to video here

Fifth report under #UN #SecurityCouncil Resolution 2334

27/03/2018 1 comment

IMG_1555On 25th march I presented, on behalf of the Secretary-General, the fifth report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2334 covering the period from 18 December to 25 March.

I focused on developments on the ground in accordance with the provisions of the resolution, including on the regional and international efforts to advance the peace process.

These developments cannot be divorced from the broader context: continued military occupation of Palestinian territory, uncertainties about the future of the peace process and the two-state solution, unilateral actions that undermine peace efforts and continued turmoil in the wider region.

I expressed my continued concern over UNRWA’s USD 446 million funding gap. It must be bridged urgently to ensure that UNRWA can provide basic services to Palestine refugees, including to school half-a-million children across the Middle East until a just and lasting peace is achieved. I welcome the approximately 100 million dollars pledged at the recent Extraordinary Ministerial Conference in Rome. I encourage Member States to consider urgently providing additional new funding for UNRWA’s critical work.

Resolution 2334 calls on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” and to fully respect all its legal obligations in this regard. No such steps were taken during the reporting period.

The United Nations considers all settlement activities to be a violation of international law and a major obstacle to peace.

Israel advanced 22 plans for some 1,500 housing units in Area C settlements.

Around a dozen units were approved for construction – significantly lower than the 1,200 units approved during the previous three-month period. Ten tenders for some 900 housing units in seven Area C settlements were also announced. Official figures released last week show that construction starts in Area C settlements declined in 2017 to nearly half the number in 2016, which was the highest in over a decade.

The plans include 15 temporary housing units near Gush Etzion, south of Bethlehem, in an area outside the jurisdiction of nearby settlements. These units are planned for residents of the Netiv Ha’Avot outpost whose homes are slated for demolition on 15 June.

In response to the January shooting attack on 4 February that killed a rabbi from the Havat Gilad outpost, the Israeli Government approved the establishment of a new settlement to absorb its residents. Havat Gilad is built almost entirely on privately owned Palestinian land.

 In related potentially significant legislative developments, in January, the Knesset passed an amendment to the “Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel.” This change will make it more difficult for Israel to transfer territories that are currently within the Israeli-defined Jerusalem municipality boundaries to a future Palestinian state by requiring a super-majority of 80 votes in the Knesset. It also makes it somewhat easier to change Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries by lowering the required Knesset threshold to a simple majority.

On 7 March, the Knesset also approved an amendment to the “Entry to Israel Law” allowing the revocation of permanent residency status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem involved in terrorist activities, treason or espionage, as defined in Israeli law.

The Israeli Government, on 25 February, endorsed a bill transferring jurisdiction over certain categories of petitions related to decisions by Israeli authorities in the West Bank from the High Court of Justice to the Court for Administrative Affairs in Jerusalem. The sponsors of the bill have described it as a step towards equating legal processes and norms in the West Bank and Israel.

Demolition of Palestinian-owned structures by Israeli authorities continued across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, albeit at the relatively low rate which characterized the past year. Ninety-two structures, including 15 that were donor-funded, were demolished, including for a lack of building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain. Consequently, 104 Palestinians were displaced, including 42 children, affecting the livelihoods of over 360 people.

Particularly concerning was the demolition of two donor-funded classrooms serving 26 children in the Palestinian Bedouin community of Abu Nuwar. For at least three years now, the United Nations has been warning of steady Israeli pressure on Abu Nuwar residents to move. The community is in the strategic E1 area planned for the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim that would result in the creation of a continuous built-up area between the settlement and East Jerusalem, further dividing East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.

Similarly, the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran also came under renewed threat on 21 March as Israeli authorities posted eviction notices on homes, indicating that evictions can take place between 14-29 April.

In late December in the Massafer Yatta area of Hebron, where most structures face demolition orders, the IDF blocked several access routes and issued a military order requiring Palestinians to obtain permits to cross, limiting access to services and livelihoods for some 1,400 residents in 12 communities.

The reporting period was also characterized by continuing demonstrations and clashes following to the U.S. announcement on 6 December recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and to the growing tensions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and along the Gaza fence.

Twenty-three Palestinians, including six children, were killed by Israeli security forces (ISF) in various incidents, including reported attacks against Israelis, demonstrations, clashes, or military operations in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Five Israelis – three civilians and two soldiers were killed by Palestinians in separate attacks in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. On 5 February, a resident of the Har Bracha settlement was stabbed to death at the entrance to the settlement of Ariel. On 9 January, a rabbi from the Havat Gilad outpost was killed in a drive-by shooting. Two of the three alleged perpetrators were killed by the ISF during subsequent search and arrest operations. On 18 March, an Israeli civilian was stabbed and mortally wounded in Jerusalem’s Old City. The alleged assailant, a Palestinian man from the West Bank town of Aqraba, was shot dead by Israeli Security Forces.

On 10 March, a Palestinian teenager was shot dead during clashes with Israeli security forces and settlers in the village of Urif, after confrontations between Palestinian villagers and residents of the nearby Yitzhar settlement turned violent.

There was a concerning escalation of violence in and around the Gaza Strip.

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) placed by Palestinian militants near the Gaza fence exploded on three occasions, wounding four Israeli soldiers in one incident on 17 February. On each occasion, Israeli forces responded with airstrikes and shelling against Hamas targets. The Israeli military also announced that it had destroyed three tunnels either fully inside Gaza or leading from Gaza into Israeli territory. Prior to this escalation, on 13 January, the IDF also destroyed a tunnel extending from Gaza into Israel and Egypt under the Kerem Shalom crossing.

In addition, 33 rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel, with 11 landing in Israel. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) retaliated against Hamas military sites in Gaza. No injuries were reported on either side.

On 13 March, an IED exploded in Gaza targeting the convoy of the Palestinian Prime Minister Hamdallah and the Head of Intelligence, lightly injuring six people. There were no claims of responsibility.

On 22 March, Hamas security forces conducted an operation in the an-Nuseirat Camp in Gaza, reportedly targeting the chief suspect in the 13 March bombing. During the operation, the suspect and an accomplice were critically wounded and later succumbed to their wounds. Two members of Hamas’ security forces were also killed during the incident.

Despite the call in Security Council resolution 2334 for the parties to refrain from acts of provocation, incitement, and inflammatory rhetoric, such statements continued.

Fatah’s official social media pages continued to feature posts glorifying perpetrators of past violence against Israeli civilians, including terror attacks that killed civilians and children. In addition, Palestinian officials continued to make statements denying the historical and religious connection of Jews to Jerusalem and its holy sites. One senior religious leader falsely claimed Jews had lived in historical Jerusalem for only 70 or 80 years. Others continue to describe Israel as “a colonial project.”

I urged the Palestinian leadership to continue to speak against violence and to condemn specific attacks against civilians.

Senior Israeli officials made provocative statements encouraging annexation of all or parts of the occupied West Bank and categorically rejecting the two-state solution. Some claimed that Palestinians are an “invented people”, others referred to Palestinians as “blood thirsty barbarians”, and one political leader called for more “injuries and deaths” in Gaza, complaining that Israeli military strikes responding to rocket fire were not producing enough casualties among militants.

I urged political leaders to refrain from provocative statements and actions that fuel an already tense environment.

Resolution 2334 reiterated the calls by the Middle East Quartet for affirmative steps to be taken to “reverse negative trends on the ground that are imperiling the two-state solution.” The period has witnessed both positive and negative actions by the parties in this regard.

In January, after years of negotiations, Israel approved the operation of local Palestinian 3G service in the West Bank, allowing Palestinian telecom companies to offer higher speed data services and somewhat improve their competitiveness.

There were two high-level meetings between the Israeli and Palestinian Ministers of Economy on 15 February in Paris and between the Israeli Minister of Finance and the Palestinian Prime Minister and the Palestinian Minister of Finance on 19 February in Ramallah – to discuss a range of economic and infrastructure issues concerning the West Bank and Gaza.

On 18 February, Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation endorsed a bill which would allow Israel to withhold tax revenues that are collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The amount withheld would be equivalent to the money used for payments to the families of Palestinian perpetrators of attacks against Israelis or for prisoners held in Israeli jails. On 5 March, the Knesset advanced a more restrictive version of the same bill.

Meanwhile, implementation of the 12 October intra-Palestinian agreement between Fatah and Hamas has stalled. In February and March, Egypt hosted delegations from the two parties in an effort to advance the process of returning Gaza under the control of the Palestinian Authority. I also held multiple meetings with senior Palestinian and Egyptian officials in support of the process.

On 4 March, the Palestinian Government approved a USD 5.1 billion budget for 2018, while presenting the option that if it were empowered in Gaza, it could amend the budget and absorb up- to 20,000 Gaza civil servants in Gaza.

In Gaza, electricity supply remains far below needs, with cuts of up to 20 hours-per-day. Without emergency fuel, 55 sewage pools are at significant risk of overflowing and the functioning of 48 water desalination plants has been reduced to around 20 per cent of their working capacity. Water is piped to households for a few hours only every four-to-five days. Basic services continue to function thanks to UN-distributed, donor-funded fuel for generators, which is expected to last, at best, only until September 2018.

Over 40 per cent of essential medicines remain at zero stock due to a lack of funding.

After a ten-year delay, the Northern Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment (NGEST) plant finally began operating on 1 March, albeit at minimum capacity. More sustainable energy supply and other infrastructure projects needs to be urgently pursued to allow it to function at full capacity. In addition to a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, Gaza’s economy remains on the brink of collapse. Urgent interventions alongside increased commitment to short, medium and longer-term projects provided the basis for discussions at the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) on 20 March in Brussels. Two preparatory meetings in Cairo and Washington on 8 and 13 March, respectively, helped develop a series of priority engagements aimed at improving the electricity, water and health situations in Gaza.

An EU-hosted pledging conference for the Gaza Central Desalination Plant, also held on 20 March, saw Member States commit some USD 565 million, nearly 80 per cent of the project costs, enabling the tendering process to begin. This is a positive development for the people and infrastructure of Gaza. Nevertheless, it is only one, albeit important, project required to ensure that Gaza remains livable beyond the foreseeable future. In a welcome development, over the past two months, Israel approved thousands of pending residential cases, more than 130 private sector projects and over 1,200 requests for the import of items that Israel considers to be of dual civilian and military use.

On 14 February, at a trilateral meeting convened by the United Nations, Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to continue with the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism and conduct a joint review in order to improve its functionality, transparency and predictability.

Resolution 2334 calls upon all States to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967. There are two developments to report in this regard.

On 23 January, the Danish Parliament passed a resolution with reference to Security Council resolution 2334, and in line with European Union policy, urging that future agreements between Denmark and Israel clearly state their inapplicability to occupied territory and encouraging the Government to strengthen its guidance to private and public investors.

Also in January, the European Commission signed a financing agreement with Israel allowing the latter’s participation in the Joint Operational Programme “Mediterranean Sea Basin” under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument Cross-Border Cooperation Programme for 2014-2020. In continuation of an existing European Union practice, the agreement includes a territorial clause stating that “in accordance with EU policy the agreement shall not apply to the geographic areas that came under the administration of the State of Israel after 5 June 1967.”

Regrettably, the reporting period has seen

no progress towards advancing the goal of a lasting peace.

On 31 January, Norway and the European Union convened an extraordinary Ministerial meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, in which support for the two-state solution in line with relevant UN resolutions was reiterated. The participants stated their support to ongoing efforts to restore unity between the west Bank and Gaza under the control of the legitimate Palestinian Authority, by focusing, inter alia, on urgent projects that address urgent electricity, water and humanitarian needs.

Speaking at the Security Council on 20 February, Palestinian President Abbas called for an international peace conference to be held by mid-2018 that would form a multilateral mechanism in support of the parties to negotiate all permanent status issues within a specific timeframe, and attain full UN membership for the State of Palestine and mutual recognition of Palestinian and Israeli statehood on the 1967 lines.

On 23 February, the U.S. announced that it would move its embassy to Jerusalem on 14 May 2018 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence.

In closing, I shared some broad observations concerning the provisions of resolution 2334 on the reporting period.

1) Israel’s settlement expansion and related activities continue further threatening the viability of the two-state solution and eroding the prospects for peace. The latest decision to establish a new settlement for the second time since the adoption of Security Council resolution 2334, following Amihai in May 2017, is particularly troubling

Meanwhile, Palestinian development remains extremely restricted. In Area C alone, there are nearly 13,000 outstanding demolition orders against Palestinian-owned structures, of which some 500 are ready for execution. Less than one per cent of Area C, comprising over 60 percent of the West Bank and critical for the contiguity of a future Palestinian state, is available for Palestinian construction under approved plans.

2) Violence and incitement continue to fuel hatred, division, distrust and fear. Continuing terror attacks on Israelis and the attempt on the life of the Palestinian Prime Minister illustrate the growing risk of destabilization and the empowerment of radicals and extremists.

The use of force by Israel must also be calibrated. Israel must uphold its responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law. Lethal force should only be used as a last resort, with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities. I once again, urged the security forces to exercise maximum restraint to avoid casualties.

I noted the developing Palestinian plans for a march on the Gaza fence on 30 March. I call on all sides to exercise restraint and to take the necessary steps to avoid a violent escalation. It is imperative that civilians, in particular children, not be targeted and that all actors refrain from putting children at risk at any time.

I also take this opportunity to reiterate my call to Hamas to provide full information on the two Israeli soldiers and two civilians who are being held in Gaza, as required by international humanitarian law.

3) Steps taken on the ground in Area C and Gaza are welcome, but far from transformative. The relaxation on the import of certain “dual-use” items and the increased number of permits issued to business people in Gaza are, nevertheless, important developments that need to be sustained and augmented. Economic development, critical as it is, is no substitute for sovereignty and statehood. Efforts aimed at achieving both must proceed in parallel.

4) The terrorist attack against the convoy of PM Hamdallah on 13 March in Gaza was a serious attempt to derail the Cairo process and its perpetrators must be brought to justice. In this respect, I call on Palestinian factions to engage earnestly with Egypt and move forward on the implementation of the Cairo agreement. This includes the paying of salaries for civil servants and the full empowerment of the government in Gaza. A fully empowered PA in Gaza remains key to lifting the closures, to alleviating the humanitarian and developmental crisis in Gaza, and to furthering national aspirations for statehood.

I commended the Prime Minister’s commitment to continue his efforts towards reconciliation and commend Egypt for its tireless efforts in this regard. The United Nations remains committed to supporting Egyptian efforts to advance this process and welcome the efforts of the international community for a more coordinated engagement in alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

I noted with concern however that, reports have emerged today, indicating that Hamas has set up a checkpoint outside Erez/Beit Hanoun crossing, controlling the entrance of national and international personnel into Gaza and the exit of all Gaza ID holders. As per the 12 October intra-Palestinian agreement, all checkpoints should be handed over to the Palestinian Authority.

5) I remain greatly concerned by the state of our collective efforts to advance peace. Long-held international consensus positions on final status issues, including on Jerusalem and refugees, and United Nations principles must remain the guiding framework of a negotiated process towards the ultimate goal of a two-state solution. Any deviation from these principles would be dangerous. UN Security Council resolution 2334 states that “it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations.” All final status issues should be resolved on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, bilateral agreements and international law.

As the Secretary-General repeatedly reminded this Council, the United Nations strongly urges Israelis, Palestinians and the international community to take concrete measures that will reverse the current course of the conflict and advance the goal of a just and sustainable peace based on the two-state solution.

Generations of Palestinian and Israeli lives have been shaped by this conflict. It is time to begin constructing a different future, a future built on mutual respect, dignity, and the belief that even the deepest and most painful divisions can be resolved if there is a genuine desire for change.

Denying #Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitism at its worst

20/03/2018 2 comments

img_1382Yesterday, I addressed the opening of the Sixth Global Forum on Combatting Anti-Semitism. I started by extending greetings from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who was unable to attend this conference and asked me to represent him. Before I began, I expressed my condolences to the families of Adiel Kolman, Ziv Daos and Netanel Kahalani, who were killed by Palestinian perpetrators in the past few days.

There is nothing heroic in killing. Has violence and terror helped any cause, any nation, any country in the region? Those who inspire and praise such attacks do not serve the cause of peace.

The fact we were gathered together yesterday, for the sixth time, in Jerusalem, at the Global Forum for Combatting Antisemitism is a testament. It is a testament to the commitment of nations and peoples around the world to never forget the crimes of the Shoah. It is a testament to never allow hatred, racisms and discrimination and xenophobia to rule the world. But most of all, it is a testament to the resilience of the Jewish people and to their long and painful journey home.

So it is was most appropriate to open this forum with three very clear and simple messages and address them to all who seek to fan the flames of hatred, terror and war:

The State of Israel is here to stay.

It is the home of the Jewish people.

In the modern context,

denying Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitism at its worst.

The modern state of Israel was born out of the ashes of the Second World War. It was built and defended by Jews who came home from across the world, it was established to be a democracy that respects human rights, protects minorities and extends support to immigrants. It is not a colonial project, but a project of hope.

The Shoah did not occur in a vacuum. It was a culmination of thousands of years of persecution from the exile of ancient Babylon, through the pogroms in Tsarist Russia, to the systematic extermination in the Nazi death camps.

The United Nations believes that we have an obligation not only to remember the boundless evil that led to the attempt to systematically eliminate the Jewish people, but to stand up and confront hatred and xenophobia where we see it.

Today we see incidents of

anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance increasing globally,

triggered by populism and by divisive politics. In Europe, we are seeing the re-emergence of neo-Nazi and other extreme nationalist groups. In America we hear ominous chants of “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”. Online there is a surge in support for racist or supremacist causes. And there are those who continue to call for the destruction of Israel. They sharpen their weapons as we speak.

Looking closer to home, we must recognize and denounce anti-Semitism here in the region. In too many societies across the Middle East, the demonization of Jews continues unabated. Many have often spoken of how a peaceful two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will pave the way towards resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. They are right. Yet at the same time, an enduring peace must be based on the acceptance that Jews, Christians and Muslims all have a historic and religious connection to this land, to this city.

While history has taught us that blind hatred and propaganda need little to turn into violence, it also teaches us that we have a choice. It teaches us that no one is born hating other people. It teaches us that we have a choice whether we give in to xenophobia and hatred or to respect different peoples, faiths and cultures. The Shoah was the result of turning hatred into policy. It became possible because too many people chose to collaborate or looked the other way. This is why

attempts to rewrite the history of the Holocaust and downplay the complicity of those who participated in or enabled genocide are so concerning.

Renowned Israeli writer and Holocaust survivor Aharon Applefeld, who recently passed away, described his memory of confronting indifference: “I noticed that all the doors and windows of our non-Jewish neighbors were suddenly shut, and we walked alone in empty streets. None of our many neighbors, […] was at the window when we dragged along our suitcases.” A sad and tragic picture imprinted in the family history of so many Jews who were lucky to survive the killing grounds of Europe.

Some people however did not look away. They did not keep their doors and windows shut.

In my country, Bulgaria, people came out.

To stand on the train tracks and to not allow the deportations. In a country that was allied to Nazi Germany. While sadly 11,300 Jews living in Bulgarian-administered territories in northern Greece, Eastern Serbia, and Macedonia were deported by the Nazis and their collaborators to be murdered in Treblinka, Bulgaria’s Jewish community of 50,000 people survived the war and has been instrumental in building the modern State of Israel.

We all have a choice to look away from the problems of anti-Semitism, xenophobia and intolerance, or to confront them. We all have a responsibility to educate our children long before their young hearts and minds are poisoned by propaganda. To this end, the United Nations and the Secretary-General are committed to continue working to educate people around the world about the horrors of the past and how we can all contribute to ensuring they are never forgotten and never repeated.

I these words I wished the conference every success.

As the enemies of #peace grow more confident, we must support the forces of moderation against radicals and deliver progress on resolving the #Palestinian – #Israeli conflict

20/02/2018 Leave a comment

Today, Palestinian President Abbas spoke at the UN Secuirty Council. He joined the monthly debate on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian Question. In my briefing to the Council, I opened by reminding everyone that we meet this month as regional tensions are taking an increasingly perilous turn. Fighting in Syria is increasing, endangering de-escalation arrangements and regional stability, as well as undermining efforts for a political solution. Despite the positive news from Iraq and the defeat of Da’esh, much of the Middle East continues to be in the grips of an ongoing human tragedy of immense proportions.

Against this backdrop and after over a century of hostilities including 50 years of continued military occupation, Israelis and Palestinians are still no closer to peace; many have lost hope that they will see it in their lifetimes.

The enemies of peace are growing more confident by the day.

They see every failure of the forces of moderation as a win for the forces of radicalisation. They believe the political odds are turning in their favour. Day after day they are emboldened. Hindering peace are also those who push facts on the ground, who promote unilateral moves blocking the pathway back to the negotiating table. None of this will bring us closer to resolving the conflict. None of it will respond to the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to statehood or the Israeli longing for security. It will only drive us farther down the road of confrontation, suffering and a one-state reality of perpetual occupation.

Last month the international community discussed key priorities to advance the goal of peace at the extraordinary ministerial meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC). At the meeting, I was encouraged by widespread, unequivocal messages reaffirming support for the two-state solution, in line with relevant UN resolutions, and the need to resume meaningful negotiations over all final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem. Participants also made a critical commitment to undertake efforts to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, including support for projects focused on water, electricity and economic recovery.

My message to all was clear: first, we must clearly reaffirm that sustainable peace requires a two-state solution, one that can only be achieved through a negotiated process. Israelis and Palestinians have defined the final status issues and only they, together, can determine their resolution. Second, efforts must continue to seek implementation of concrete and transformative steps on the ground – including ending Israeli settlement expansion and advancing policy shifts particularly in Area C of the West Bank – consistent with a transition to greater Palestinian civil authority, as called for in the 2016 report of the Middle East Quartet. Third, the Palestinian Authority must continue to advance institution-building and service delivery to the Palestinian people and work towards bringing Gaza back under its control. And lastly, it is critical that any future peace proposal focus on the two-state solution and all final status issues as per prior agreements and relevant United Nations resolutions. A failure to do so could have dangerous repercussions.

Maintaining support for Palestine refugees is fundamental to the pursuit of peace and stability in the region. I reiterate my ongoing concern over UNRWA’s sizeable funding shortfall, despite the welcome flexibility of some Member States in accelerating the disbursement of their funding commitments. In addition, the emergency appeals launched on 30 January seek to raise US$ 800 million for the West Bank and Gaza, as well as for the Syria regional crisis, to meet the essential needs of some 1.5 million highly vulnerable people. I encourage Member States to consider urgently providing new funding for UNRWA’s critical requirements.

As the peace process falters and the gulf between the two sides widens, Palestinians and Israelis continue to suffer the violent consequences on the ground. Seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in various incidents across the occupied Palestinian territory and one Israeli civilian was stabbed and killed by a Palestinian in the West Bank. Three of the Palestinians killed died during violent clashes with security forces, one a 16-year-old was shot near Ramallah. He was the fourth child killed under such circumstances since the beginning of the year. I once again emphasized that the use of force must be calibrated and that lethal force should only be used as a last resort, with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities. I urge Israeli security forces to exercise maximum restraint to avoid casualties under such circumstances.

I called upon all sides to reject violence, condemn terror, ensure accountability and work to reduce tensions.

In recent days we have also witnessed dangerous security incidents in and around Gaza. On 17 February four Israeli soldiers were wounded by an improvised explosive device placed at the Gaza fence. This was followed by Israeli airstrikes on some 18 Hamas targets, while Palestinian militants fired two rockets into Israel – one causing damage to a house in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. Two Palestinian teens were killed by Israeli security forces while reportedly attempting to approach the fence. Prior to this latest flare-up during the course of the past month, three more rockets were fired towards Israel, with two Israeli retaliatory strikes, all without injuries.

I encouraged the international community to

join the UN in calling on militants in Gaza to refrain from such provocations

and end the building of tunnels and the firing of rockets towards Israel. Such actions, and the response they elicit, only risk the lives of Palestinians and Israelis, undermine peace efforts and increase the likelihood of another devastating conflict.

I also took the opportunity to note the need to resolve the matter of the missing Israeli soldiers and civilians that are being held in Gaza.

Two additional incidents, Mr. President, highlight the risk of escalation and the need for continued Israeli-Palestinian security coordination. These were the discovery of 12 roadside bombs in the West Bank on 26 January and the foiled attempt on 4 February, to smuggle a dual-use component used to make explosives into Gaza within a shipment of medical equipment.

I also noted that the trial of 17-year-old Palestinian girl Ahed Tamimi started on 13 February behind closed doors. She has been detained on remand for two months to date. As stated in my last briefing, the detention of a child must only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time.

Throughout the reporting period Israel’s illegal settlement-related activities continued unabated. In response to last month’s killing of a resident of the illegal Havat Gilad outpost, on February 4th, Israel approved the establishment of a new settlement to absorb its residents. I strongly denounced the expansion of the settlement enterprise as compensation for Israeli deaths.

Settlement construction is not a morally appropriate way to respond to murder.

On February 12th, Israel also advanced two settlement plans for some 85 housing units near Bethlehem. I reiterated the long-standing UN position that all settlement-related activities are illegal under international law and are a substantial obstacle to peace; and I call on Israel to seize and reverse such policies.

Demolition and seizure of Palestinian-owned structures also continued, with 31 structures affected, resulting in 33 Palestinians displaced. Particularly concerning was the demolition of two donor-funded classrooms serving Palestinian children in the Bedouin community of Abu Nuwar. This is the sixth demolition or confiscation in the school since February 2016. Overall, according to OCHA, 44 schools in the occupied West Bank are currently at risk of demolition. I urged Israel to cease this practice.

I briefed the Council last week on the situation in Gaza. Month after month, we have raised the alarm about the humanitarian, economic and ecological calamity underway. It bears repeating that the situation is unsustainable.

Continuing power cuts of up to 20 hours per day severely undermine the provision of basic services. Without additional immediate fuel deliveries, the situation could deteriorate with dramatic consequences.

I reiterated the Secretary-General’s

appreciation to the United Arab Emirates and to the State of Qatar

for their support to deal with this emergency. Their immediate response to our appeal has helped stave off a further deterioration.

I stated that I was encouraged by the trilateral meeting I had last week with Palestinian Prime Minister Hamdallah and Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Mordechai in which we focused on the humanitarian problems in Gaza. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the temporary Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism and agreed on the need for a joint review to improve its functionality, transparency and predictability.

As the humanitarian crisis in Gaza escalates, the implementation of the Egyptian-brokered intra-Palestinian agreement has stalled. Absent immediate steps to address the humanitarian crisis and to revive the economy, we will face a total institutional and economic collapse in Gaza. This is not an alarmist prediction Mr. President – it is a fact. I welcomed the proposal of the Palestinian Government to incorporate into its 2018 budget some 20,000 civil service employees in Gaza. A positive outcome, however, is contingent, inter alia, upon the collection of taxes, the payment of salaries, the return of the Government administration, and ultimately, security control of Gaza. I urged all sides to intensify their engagement and to move forward in this process.

For a decade two million people have lived under the full control of Hamas with crippling Israeli closures and movement and access restrictions. Throughout this period the international community has provided aid and humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering and to rebuild what was destroyed in three devastating conflicts.

It is time to break this cycle. It is time to return Gaza back to the control of the legitimate Palestinian Authority, for there can be no Palestinian state without Palestinian unity.

Those who stand in the way of reconciliation hurt the Palestinian national cause

and the price will be paid by generations of ordinary people.

The security situation on the Golan is also of growing concern. A worrying escalation occurred on February 10th, when Israeli Defence Forces destroyed what they identified as an Iranian Unmanned Aerial Vehicle which had reportedly entered its airspace from Syria. Shortly thereafter, Israeli aircraft targeted a Syrian airbase. During the attack, one Israeli jet was hit injuring two pilots, which further prompted Israel to attack what it described as “12 military objectives” inside Syria. I urge all sides to work towards easing tensions in this highly volatile area.

Turning briefly to Lebanon I stated that heightened rhetoric was exchanged between Israel and Lebanon over disputed maritime areas. The United Nations continues to call on the sides to act responsibly, avoid security risks and explore with the support of the United Nations ways to resolve the issue. Preparations continue for May parliamentary elections in Lebanon and for the upcoming Rome II and Cedre conferences to support the security sector and economy, respectively on 15 March and 5 April. While the situation was generally quiet in the UNIFIL area of operation, heightened rhetoric relating to the Israeli Defense Forces proposed constructions in Lebanese “reservation areas” south of the Blue Line continued. The planned construction commenced in non-reservation areas on 7 February with no incidents reported.

Returning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I reiterated in closing that we in the international community must continue advocating for substantial Israeli policy changes related to the situation in the West Bank, including a halt to settlement construction, demolition of structures and prevention of Palestinian development in Area C. On Gaza, we must collectively work to alleviate the humanitarian disaster and provide full support to Egyptian reconciliation efforts. Our support to UNRWA also remains vital.

I also expressed hope that we will be able to look beyond the closed, dark negotiating rooms that are currently empty of diplomats and politicians, to see that there are Israeli and Palestinian advocates for peace working tirelessly to promote change: civil society organizations; youth and women’s groups; religious and community leaders – they all have a critical role to play and must be supported and allowed to express their views freely. We rarely discuss their role, we don’t speak often enough of the challenges they face, but their efforts must be recognized and supported.

At the Security Council we have often spoken of the need for leadership on both sides to reach a deal, a compromise, through negotiations that would allow Israelis and Palestinians to separate and be masters of their own fate. But these negotiations would not be negotiations between equals. For one side is under military occupation. Its leadership has committed to a peaceful solution to the conflict through negotiation. I urge the international community not to give up on support for the moderate Palestinian leadership or on building up the institutions that will increase the chances of success. Our window of opportunity is closing and, if we do not seize it quickly, the Israeli – Palestinian conflict will be engulfed in the whirlwind of religious radicalization that remains present in the region.