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Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

We must avoid the risk of sleep-walking into another violent conflict in Gaza

19/10/2016 1 comment

On 19 October I briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in the Middle East. Although international focus on the Question of Palestine may have been overtaken by the tragedy in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, but it cannot be allowed to be relegated to a secondary problem.

Sadly, settlement announcements, outbreaks of violence and terror, and the absence of visionary leadership continue to define the conflict. The inability to see beyond the horizon and grasp the benefits of resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, of ending the occupation, of establishing a two-state solution that meets the national aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis alike, is a historic loss to the region as a whole.The absence of progress has led to growing anger and frustration among Palestinians and profound disillusionment among Israelis. It has strengthened radicals and weakened moderates on both sides.

On October 9th, a Palestinian opened fire, killing two Israelis and injuring six others in a terror attack in occupied East Jerusalem. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims. Deplorably, Hamas and many others chose to justify and glorify the attack and its perpetrator. 

This tragic incident once again underscores an undeniable truth – if Palestinians genuinely hope to reach the long-overdue goal of statehood and an end to the occupation, this will not be achieved through violence, but must be reached through negotiations. In separate incidents, during recent clashes in East Jerusalem, a 20-year-old Palestinian civilian died after being shot by Israeli security forces. Separately, an unarmed 12 year old girl was also shot in the legs by security guards while approaching a checkpoint.

I spoke of the fact that during the past month Israel has continued with settlement planning, including the recent promotion of an initial 98 out of 300 housing units in Shilo, located deep in the occupied West Bank. If implemented, this plan will drive a wedge between north and south in the West Bank and jeopardize the contiguity of a future Palestinian state. Israeli officials have defined this move as an attempt to relocate settlers from the illegal Amona outpost, which has been slated for demolition by the Israeli Supreme Court.
I once again reiterated the position of the Secretary-General that settlements are illegal under international law and undermine the two-state solution.
Adding to this troubling overall picture, I noted that Palestinians have again been unable to exercise their democratic rights after local council elections in the West Bank and Gaza were postponed. The political bickering, mutual accusations, legal challenges and counter-challenges that followed have left the people of Gaza and the West Bank feeling more apart.
I also stated my concern at recent calls by Hamas legislators in Gaza for the Hamas led government to resume its work in Gaza. Such a step would seriously undermine the Palestinian Government of National Consensus and would also make the reconciliation almost impossible.

In a previous breifing in August, I raised UN and international concerns about the steady continuation of Israel’s policy of expanding its presence in the occupied West Bank. Today, I focused on another impediment to a negotiated solution — the security, humanitarian and political situation in Gaza. Three deadly conflicts in the past eight years have eroded both Palestinian belief that Israel wants anything more than Gaza’s destruction and Israeli conviction that their Palestinian neighbours desire peace. Fueling Israeli fears is that Gaza is controlled by a de facto authority whose overtly anti-Semitic Charter equates resistance with violence, rejects peaceful solutions and aspires to the obliteration of Israel.

Israel accuses Gaza militants of continuously seeking to obtain money and military matériel, including by smuggling in civilian boats, concealing components for the production of rockets inside commercial shipments and diverting construction materials from needy beneficiaries. The United Nations has been informed by Israel of at least 41 serious smuggling attempts which have been intercepted since the beginning of 2016. Although the UN lacks the capacity to independently confirm the smuggling accusations, if accurate, they show the intention to continue attacks against Israel.
Last week, I travelled to Gaza where I witnessed warehouses, empty of construction materials, as the reconstruction process is significantly slowing down. And this is due to limitations of imports. No new residential reconstruction projects have been approved since March. In the recent days the approval of some 80 projects – some of which had already been started – has been revoked by Israel.
I saw residential buildings half built. I met with families whose projects have been cleared for reconstruction, yet have not received any cement for months. I heard from those that have tried to navigate the web of rules governing the import of materials considered ‘dual-use’ with no luck or response. I stand with the people in Gaza who have suffered through conflicts, closures and continue to face unimaginable suffering.

At current rates, it will take more than one year to catch up on the backlog of approved projects and years to address the full housing and reconstruction shortage in Gaza. These trends are worrying and I call on the parties to the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism to recommit once again to ensuring its smooth operation. Failing to do that will put in question the viability of the mechanism and undermine the precarious calm in Gaza today.

According to some estimates, in the last decade, militants in Gaza have fired nearly 16,000 rockets and mortars at Israel. Some 200 projectiles have been fired since the end of the last conflict. While since 2014 there has been little damage or injury, there is an ever-present risk of a potentially catastrophic escalation that neither wants nor needs.
During the 2014 conflict, Israel discovered and destroyed 14 tunnels crossing into its territory and, in May of this year, detected and destroyed two more.
I reiterated the joint position of Russia, the United States, the European Union and the Secretary-General of the UN as stated in the Quartet report: the illicit arms build-up and militant activity in Gaza must be terminated. Such actions increase the risk of a new escalation of hostilities, keep thousands of people on both sides of the border under constant threat of attack, and undermine the reconstruction process. The militant threat, however, should not serve as an excuse for Israel to indiscriminately harm civilians in Gaza. In addition to the continuing severely restrictive closures, I am concerned by persistent incursions and the almost daily firing and shelling by Israeli forces into Gaza along the fence and at sea.

The vicious cycles of conflict in Gaza must end. 

To do so, control of Gaza must return to the Palestinian Government of National Unity committed to the PLO principles. The closures on Gaza must also be lifted in line with Security Council resolution 1860. Palestinians and Israelis both deserve the right to lead a normal life in freedom and security, with their human rights respected. Since Hamas’ takeover of Gaza in 2007 40 per cent of Palestinians living in the occupied territory are beyond the control of the legitimate Palestinian government. Israel’s closure policy and severe restrictions have brought social, cultural and economic interaction between Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to a virtual standstill. The widening chasm that has emerged between both parts of the occupied Palestinian territory undermines the national state-building enterprise and threatens the very viability of establishing a unified Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution. Unity is, therefore, critical.

I encouraged Hamas to pursue reconciliation with Fatah in line with the PLO principles and to consider redefining its political stance.

Turning briefly to the Golan I stated my continuing concern by the volatile situation which undermines the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement and jeopardises the ceasefire between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic. It remains critical that the parties to the Disengagement Agreement maintain liaison with UNDOF in the first instance, exercise maximum restraint and refrain from any action that could escalate the situation across the ceasefire line and the already volatile regional environment.

In closing, I issued two warnings.Firstly, to those who believe that the people of Gaza can be punished by closures or by imposing restrictions on the entry of construction materials that are vital for the economy. They should know that the temperature in Gaza is rising. Secondly, to those who build tunnels, fire rockets, smuggle military materiel, profit from the black market or seek to create confrontation. Their actions are dangerous and irresponsible. They are stealing from their own people and risk the lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

We must all avoid the risk of sleep-walking into another violent conflict at a time when the region as a whole needs moderate forces to unite and stand up to the radicalisation that we see across the Middle East. Gaza’s future is inextricably linked to the future of the Palestinian people and their goal of establishing an independent state. But the longer its population continues to suffer under the intolerable weight of Gaza’s current dynamics, the further Palestinians are from realizing that objective, and the closer we are unfortunately to the next major escalation.

I condemn today’s #terror attack in #Jerusalem. Deplorable that #Hamas glorify such acts

09/10/2016 Leave a comment

jerusalem-shootingI condemn this morning’s terror attack by a Palestinian perpetrator in occupied East Jerusalem which killed two Israelis and injured six others. Nothing can justify such attacks.

My thoughts are with the families and friends of all victims and I hope for a full and speedy recovery of the wounded.

It is deplorable and unacceptable that Hamas and others choose to glorify such acts which undermine the possibility of a peaceful future for both Palestinians and Israelis

New #Duma arson attack; #Israel must ensure vulnerable #WestBank #Palestinian communities are protected

20/07/2016 2 comments

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-ATTACKI am concerned by reports of yet another arson attack on the home of the Dawabsha family last night in Duma in the occupied West Bank. If confirmed, this despicable act would be the third incident in this particular village in the last year.

Since the 31 July 2015 terrorist arson attack in which Jewish extremists torched the Dawabsha home, killing three family members and leaving four year-old Ahmed orphaned, indictments have been made, but the perpetrators of this terrible crime have yet to face justice. I call upon the authorities to move swiftly in bringing the perpetrators of this terrible crime, as well as this latest incident, to justice.

I also urge Israel, as the occupying power, to ensure that vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are protected in line with its obligations under international law.

#BREAKING: #MiddleEast Quartet report on #Israel #Palestine published

01/07/2016 Leave a comment

You can download the full report here.

Its objective is not to be a scorecard for assigning blame, but to provide a constructive way forward towards achieving a negotiated two-state solution. Any other outcome entrenches a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict that is incompatible with realising the national aspirations of both peoples.

I hope that on the basis of this report the Quartet can engage with the parties and the region in creating the conditions for a return to meaningful negotiations.

http://www.unsco.org/Documents/Key/Quartet%20Report%20and%20Statement%20-%201%20July%202016.pdf

I refuse to accept that Palestinians and Israelis want to live “by the sword”, peace requires leadership

19/11/2015 Leave a comment
Visiting Hebron earlier this month, where the Old City streets are barricaded; houses are emptied of life; lives are caged in by metal grids...

Visiting Hebron earlier this month, where the Old City streets are barricaded; houses are emptied of life; lives are caged in by metal grids…

Earlier today I delivered my monthly briefing to the UN Security Council on the situation in the Middle East. I started by extending, on behalf of the UN family in Jerusalem, our deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims of the abhorrent terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and the Sinai. These tragic events serve to reinforce the reality that the extremism and terrorism that has infected many parts of the Middle East is not constrained by borders. It can strike anywhere, anytime, and poses a grave threat to international peace and security.

Against this backdrop we cannot separate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from this global threat.

Establishing a Palestinian state, while addressing Israel’s substantial security concerns, would yield major dividends not only for Israelis and Palestinians alike, but for the entire region.

Over the past month, there were 36 reported attacks, including stabbings or attempted stabbings, shootings, or car-rammings, by Palestinians against Israelis in Israel and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. They left seven Israelis dead and 36 injured, including today’s attack in Tel Aviv and an attack just now in the settlement of Gush Etzion. The two apparent sniper attacks in Hebron on 10 November, which would be the first of their kind since the current escalation began, and the brutal drive-by shooting south of Hebron, on 13 November which killed a father and his son are worrying signs of escalation from the use of knives to firearms. Of the suspected Palestinian assailants, 25 were killed.

According to OCHA, during the reporting period, in clashes across the West Bank and Gaza 11 Palestinians were killed and over 3,500 injured, with seven others injured in settler-related violence.

I reiterated

the United Nations’ resolute condemnation of all terrorist attacks

and called on political, community and religious leaders on all sides to speak out against terror and all forms of violence.

Since the last briefing, the epicentre of violence has moved to Hebron, which like Jerusalem, has holy sites revered by both Muslims and Jews and has been a cause of friction for decades.

Hebron is the heart of the Palestinian economy. Its vitality is unmistakable and its vast potential for growth is broadly recognised. It is the West Bank’s largest city with a population of some 170,000. It is also its industrial and commercial engine. Annual exports to Israel amount to over 240 million dollars. The city’s continued development is, thus, integral to the economic viability of a future Palestinian state.

A walk through the Old City, however, evokes a starkly different image: streets barricaded and unnaturally cut off; houses emptied of life and activity; lives caged in by metal grids and turnstiles.

Over the past twenty years the city’s Palestinian and Jewish populations have been physically separated.  The economic impact of the violence raging in and around Hebron has been severe for the entire district. Once thriving markets are now eerily abandoned. Over the last decade hundreds of shops located in the Israeli controlled “H2” area have been shut down either by military order or due to lack of business.

I told the Security Council that I plan to return soon to Hebron with the UN Country Team to discuss with the Governor and the Mayor what programmes we can initiate to support the recovery of the area and to support community dialogue.

Ending the violence and de-escalating the overall situation in Jerusalem, Hebron and other areas must remain our immediate priority. But as the Secretary-General has consistently stated, this cannot be achieved through security measures alone. All parties must play a part in implementing measures that could have a positive impact.

These include:

1.     Immediate efforts by all political, religious and community leaders to stop the hate-fuelled incitement that glorifies the murder of Jews or that brands all Palestinians as terrorists;

2.     Recent understandings on upholding the status quo at Haram-Al Sharif / Temple Mount must also be implemented;

3.     It is necessary to address the apparent impunity for settler violence against Palestinians;

4.     The sanctity of burial rituals must be recognised and Palestinians must be allowed to bury their deceased without unnecessary delay;

5.     Within Hebron restrictions must be eased and Hebron’s main commercial artery, al-Shuhada Street, should be reopened in accordance with the 1994 Hebron Protocols;

6.     Taking steps to bolster security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to prevent any further deterioration of the situation;

7.     Finally, the use of firearms by Israeli security forces should be employed only when less extreme means are insufficient to address an imminent threat of death or serious injury.

Dealing with the threats that kill the prospect of a two-state solution is also critical. The reality in which a settler state is emerging in the occupied West Bank must be reversed if hope is to be reignited.

I noted my concern with the decision announced on November 18th to issue tenders for 436 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo, the first such tender announcement in over a year. Equally worrisome are the five punitive demolitions of family houses of alleged perpetrators of terrorist acts carried out by Israel over the past week. I reiterated that

settlement activity and punitive demolitions are illegal under international law.

They also deepen mistrust between the parties and further aggravate an already highly tense environment.

In a troubling development, Israeli forces have carried out several raids on hospitals, including at Al Makassed hospital in East Jerusalem and at al-Ahli hospital in Hebron. My deputy and UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory has called on the authorities to respect health facilities and the right of all individuals to receive health care.

During the reporting period, the security situation in Gaza was relatively calm compared to the West Bank, despite three fatalities as a result of clashes near the border fence. Having said that however, seven rockets were fired toward Israel, three of which impacted Israeli territory, without causing fatalities. Palestinian militants also test fired 14 rockets at the sea. The IDF responded with six airstrikes and three limited incursions into the Gaza Strip. On at least four occasions, Israeli forces opened fire at Palestinians at sea, resulting in injuries to at least two persons. In a worrying development Israel intercepted the attempted illegal transfer of 450 litres of TDI (Toluene di-isocyanate) a hazardous substance that can be used for the production of a large quantity of rockets.

I called on all factions on the ground in Gaza not to engage in activities that risk destabilising the situation

and undermining the reconstruction process. Particularly as the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) continues to function effectively. In October, a new stream was introduced to simplify access to construction materials to finish housing units, which had been started – but not completed – prior to last year’s conflict. Under this stream, over 6,000 applicants have so far been introduced into the system.

In a welcome development, as of mid-October, Israel removed aggregate from the list of dual-use materials. The good news, however, has been tempered by the addition of other items, including timber, to the list this year. These additions hinder Gaza’s reconstruction and I called on the Israeli authorities to reconsider their decision.

Based on developments on the ground, the current conditions make a return to negotiations a challenging prospect.

Trust must be rebuilt and, for that, bold and significant steps on the ground must be taken in order to tangibly improve lives and irreversibly move towards the end of occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In the period before an eventual return to negotiations, the parties and their international partners must pursue measures that strengthen institutions, economic prospects and security. This will require substantial policy changes on the ground by Israel.

The Middle East Quartet remains the principle international entity to support and encourage negotiations

towards a comprehensive and just resolution of the conflict The Quartet envoys plan to travel to the region in the coming period to engage directly with the parties.

Meanwhile, we continue to look to the Security Council for any additional guidance on developing a new peace architecture for resolving the conflict.

Turning to the wider region, I noted that the Council was briefed yesterday on developments in Lebanon, including in Beirut, therefore I did not add anything on that issue.

I said, however, that the Syrian conflict for its part continues to take a devastating toll on the Syrian people and beyond and poses an even graver threat to international peace and security. For all of these reasons,

the Secretary-General is greatly encouraged

that in Vienna the international community has finally re-engaged in searching for a political settlement to the Syrian conflict based on the transition elements of the 2012 Geneva Communiqué. It is important that key international and regional players follow through on their commitments to actively insist on their Syrian allies to engage constructively in all of these areas. This is vital in order to give political backing, leverage and credibility to our efforts.

Turning to the Golan, I discussed the situation that remains volatile with clashes between the Syrian government forces and armed groups, shelling and occasional airstrikes continuing in the areas of separation and limitation, in particular in Ufaniyah, Jabbata Al Khashab and Al Baath in the central part of the area of separation. In the context of these clashes, fire from the Bravo side has impacted across the ceasefire line. On 13 October, the Israel Defence Forces notified UNDOF that they had retaliated to spill-over fire from the Bravo side by firing three missiles at Syrian armed forces positions in the area of limitation. UNDOF did not observe the alleged firing from the Bravo side. These events have the potential to escalate tensions between Israel and Syria, jeopardising the ceasefire between the two countries. Under these challenging circumstances, however, UNDOF continues to use its best efforts to carry out its mandate.

In closing, I said that

I refuse to be convinced that Israelis and Palestinians want to live “by the sword” and in a state of perpetual violence.

We owe it to the people of this troubled land, who, despite endless setbacks and disappointments, have continued to maintain hope that negotiated peace can be realised.

I assured the Council that the Secretary-General remains steadfast in his support of any effort to restore the hope that a two-state solution can be achieved through negotiations.

But the long road ahead requires leadership. Leadership that has been glaringly absent to date…

VOA Press Conference USA interview

29/10/2015 Leave a comment

UN to explore “realistic options” for a return to negotiations

20/05/2015 Leave a comment
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“Both parties must expend every effort to build upon existing agreements, including relevant Security Council resolutions, the Roadmap and the Arab Peace Initiative, to gain momentum towards a final status agreement”

On May 19th I presented my first report to the Security Council in my new capacity as the Secretary General’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process and Personal Envoy to the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. The presentation was followed by closed consultations.

I started by thanking Palestinian President Abbas and his Government for their warm welcome and genuine interest in working with the United Nations in advancing the just cause of peace. I also expressed my gratitude to the Government of Israel for their warm reception and for engaging on a host of important issues related to the situation on the ground.

Since taking up my assignment, I have engaged with the Palestinian and Israeli leadership; with political, civil society and business stakeholders in the West Bank and Gaza; and with key partners in Egypt and Jordan in order to begin developing a better understanding of the reality on the ground and the prospects for the future.

The Middle East faces a vicious tide of terror and extremism that presents a dangerous challenge to the region, and to international peace and security.

However, the inability to respond, for over 60 years, both on the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state and to Israel’s quest for security, has fuelled a situation that is becoming more dangerous by the day.

Generations of Palestinians and Israelis have come to realise that sustainable and just peace cannot be reached through conflict, but must be the result of negotiations. Thousands of people have died so that today we may hold this truth – that peace cannot be achieved through violence, but at the negotiating table, to be self-evident.

This hard-earned belief in peace and negotiations must not be allowed to wither away. If it does, it can further destabilise the Middle East for decades. To save it, to give hope back to people, we must act to advance the prospect of a two-state solution: Israel and Palestine – living side-by-side in peace and security.

How to do that is not an academic question, but one that must be addressed by the parties on the ground, by the international community, and by the United Nations.

I do not underestimate the difficult decisions that both parties will have to take. Nor should we underestimate the domestic challenges that Israeli and Palestinian leaders alike will have to overcome. The region is facing complicated security threats. However, it is precisely because of the dangers that lurk in the Middle East today that both sides must show historic leadership and personal commitment to peace and negotiations.

I called on the new Government of Israel to take credible steps, including a freeze of settlement activity, in order to promote the resumption of meaningful negotiations.Continued security cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli authorities remains a cornerstone of a peaceful resolution.

Continued security cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli authorities remains a cornerstone of a peaceful resolution.

Both parties must expend every effort to build upon existing agreements, including relevant Security Council resolutions, the Roadmap and the Arab Peace Initiative, to gain momentum towards a final status agreement.

The Secretary-General stands ready to work with all in order to encourage a return to negotiations, on the basis of an agreed framework.

On 14 May, the Israeli Knesset confirmed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s new coalition government. Its guidelines state that it will “strive for peace with the Palestinians and all our neighbours, while safeguarding the security, historical and national interests of Israel.”

The Secretary-General and I will be engaging the new Government to explore realistic options for a return to meaningful negotiations towards a two-State solution within a reasonable timeframe. However, this goal is increasingly threatened by actions that exacerbate the divisions between the sides.

We are deeply concerned to see the advancement of settlement activities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank on three occasions this past month. On 14 May, tenders were issued for 85 housing units in Givat Ze’ev, south of Ramallah. On 6 May, the District Planning and Building Committee approved permits for 400 new residential units in the settlement of Ramat Shlomo, and, on 27 April, 77 tenders were issued for residential units in two other East Jerusalem settlements.

These announcements come at a sensitive time in which the international community is looking to Israel to demonstrate its readiness to engage with the Palestinians on building peace. There should be no illusions about the impact of these unilateral actions. They not only undermine the collective hopes of those longing for a just resolution of the conflict, but they again call into question the viability of achieving peace based on the vision of two States.

Settlement activity is illegal under international law and I urge the new Israeli Government to reverse these decisions and refrain from further such action.

In the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, tensions continued as Israeli security forces conducted some 265 search-and-arrest operations, resulting in the arrest of 294 Palestinians. In separate incidents in late April, three Palestinian men, including a 17-year-old boy, were shot and killed after reportedly stabbing and injuring Israeli security officers at checkpoints in Hebron and Ma’ale Adumin. On 25 April, a Palestinian man was suspected of intentionally ramming his car into a group of Israeli policemen in East Jerusalem, resulting in four injured. On 11 May, an Israeli was injured in a reported stabbing attack near a West Bank checkpoint. And on 14 May, three Israeli youths were struck by a car driven by a Palestinian man in Gush Etzion.

In the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, tensions continued as Israeli security forces conducted some 265 search-and-arrest operations, resulting in the arrest of 294 Palestinians. In separate incidents in late April, three Palestinian men, including a 17-year-old boy, were shot and killed after reportedly stabbing and injuring Israeli security officers at checkpoints in Hebron and Ma’ale Adumin. On 25 April, a Palestinian man was suspected of intentionally ramming his car into a group of Israeli policemen in East Jerusalem, resulting in four injured. On 11 May, an Israeli was injured in a reported stabbing attack near a West Bank checkpoint. And on 14 May, three Israeli youths were struck by a car driven by a Palestinian man in Gush Etzion.

Despite repeated objections, the Israeli government continues to demolish Palestinian homes and structures. During the reporting period, a total of 15 structures, which contained 33 residences, were demolished leading to the displacement of 25 Palestinians, including 14 children. On 4 May, the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected a request by Palestinians from the Area C village of Susiya to freeze demolitions in the village. And on 10 May an Israeli court ordered the demolition of eight buildings in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Semiramis. The United Nations, once again, urges Israel to cease such demolitions and displacements.

The United Nations also remains concerned about the recent moves to relocate Bedouin communities near Abu Nwar in the politically sensitive E1 section of the West Bank that may be linked to further settlement construction.

Turning to Gaza, I cannot but recall the shock of my first brief tour of the destruction of the Shujaiya neighbourhood.

No one can remain untouched by the scale of devastation, the slow pace of reconstruction, and the vast needs to rebuild lives and livelihoods in Gaza.

Gaza is desperate and angry. Angry at the blockade, at the closure of Rafah, at Hamas, including for imposing a ‘solidarity tax’, at the donors for not honouring their financial commitments for reconstruction, at everyone. There is a clear moral and humanitarian imperative not just for the United Nations and the international community, but primarily for the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to prevent the implosion of Gaza. I particularly call on the factions on the ground to ensure that Gaza remains peaceful.

Despite the fact that the agreed cease-fire, brokered by Egypt, continues to hold, some security incidents have persisted during the reporting period. Three rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza on 23 April, with one exploding in an open area in Israel while the other two dropped short and exploded inside Gaza; on 3 May, militants fired another rocket which impacted inside Gaza near the security fence; Palestinian militants also test fired 19 rockets at the sea. Thankfully, no injuries or damage were reported in any of these incidents, which we condemn. In response to the rocket firing, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) conducted an air strike in Gaza damaging a Hamas military site but also not resulting in casualties. IDF also reportedly shot and injured nine Palestinians in Gaza: three fishermen whose boats were fired upon by the Israeli navy and six Palestinians, shot while approaching the Gaza border fence. Three militants were also killed in separate incidents where smuggling tunnels collapsed.

Without genuine Palestinian reconciliation and unity, all efforts to improve the situation in Gaza will face major difficulties. On 19 April, a delegation of Palestinian ministers travelled to Gaza to begin a process to reintegrate public sector employees, tens of thousands of whom have not received salaries for over a year. Discussions, however, broke down the following day.

Despite this setback, I welcome the determination of Prime Minister Hamdallah and his efforts to find a solution to the problem of public sector employees in Gaza. His commitment that no one will be left behind is an important guarantee. I encourage all factions to support these efforts. The United Nations stands ready to work with all stakeholders and support the Government in mobilising the necessary resources for this process.

A comprehensive reconciliation must include the Government of National Consensus resuming control over the crossings to Israel and Egypt. This is key to allowing more movement of goods and people and to the eventual reopening the crossings. It should also pave the way for the long overdue Palestinian general elections. The responsibility for addressing these issues lies first and foremost with the Palestinian authorities. But it also partly rests with the United Nations and the international community, which must empower the Government to take up its leadership role in Gaza, including through the fulfilment of donor pledges made at the Cairo conference last October.

No approach which divides Gaza and the West Bank should be supported – Palestine is one and the United Nations will work determinedly to advance unity through its legitimate institutions. 

The United Nations ultimate objective in Gaza is to see the lifting of all closures, within the framework of Security Council resolution 1860 (2009). In the absence of such a fundamental change, the temporary Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism is the only currently available option to facilitate the entry of material and to enable implementation of large-scale projects that can bring reconstruction, jobs and stability.

I can report that, as of 19 May, close to 85,000 of the 100,000 households in need of construction materials to repair their homes have received materials. In addition, 85 out of 167 projects submitted and funded by the international community and the private sector have been approved, eight of which are currently underway.

These are positive developments, but far from sufficient to address Gaza’s reconstruction needs. The United Nations is working closely with the Israeli Ministry of Defence’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, with the Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs and donors to finalise arrangements to speed up construction. I take the opportunity to thank all counterparts for their constructive engagement on these matters.

Turning briefly to Lebanon, Special Coordinator Kaag and members of the International Support Group for Lebanon met today in Beirut with Prime Minister Tamam Salam to discuss the current situation in Lebanon.

As of 25 May, the country will have been without a President for one year.

This vacuum undermines Lebanon’s ability to address the challenges it faces and jeopardises the functioning of State institutions. Members of Parliament should fulfil their constitutional obligation to elect a President without further delay.

With almost 1.2 million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon forming the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world, we again call on the international community to urgently fulfil existing pledges and increase and expedite support to Lebanon as a matter of priority. It is important that the Government and United Nations counterparts work together to promote effective management of the refugee presence in line with international humanitarian and human rights law.

The Lebanese-Syrian border remains impacted by incidents and infiltration attempts of armed extremist groups, particularly as a result of the fighting in the Qalamoun region. The Lebanese Armed Forces have committed considerable efforts to secure the border with support from the international community. On 20 April, Lebanon received its first shipment of military equipment from France financed by the $3 billion grant from Saudi Arabia. This and other contributions by Member States are both necessary and welcome.

UNIFIL’s area of operations has remained generally calm, despite the volatile situation in the Golan Heights. In their ongoing engagement with UNIFIL, both parties maintained their commitment to the cessation of hostilities and the stability of the Blue Line. Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace continued on an almost daily basis.

On the Golan, clashes occurred between the Syrian armed forces and armed members of the opposition, as well as heavy fighting between different armed groups in the area of separation. Between 24 April and 5 May, fire from the Bravo side, as a result of such fighting, impacted across the ceasefire line. On 24 April, an IDF Missile Launching Unit fired four missiles eastwards, one of which crossed the ceasefire line. On 26 April, the IDF informed UNDOF that four persons carrying equipment had crossed the ceasefire line from the Bravo side and had been killed by the IDF as they approached the technical fence. These developments have the potential to heighten tensions and jeopardise the ceasefire between the two countries.

In conclusion, let me return to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the coming period will be critical to the future of the peace process. The United Nations has repeatedly warned that maintaining the status quo is not tenable. It will inexorably lead to the continued erosion of living conditions for Palestinians and Israelis alike, and will undermine the security and stability of all.

My introductory meetings clearly demonstrated that, despite the prolonged absence of a political horizon, despite the sometimes poisonous rhetoric of incitement and the destructive actions of those seeking to undermine a return to talks, there remains a steadfast desire and determination to achieve an enduring agreement.

Any resolution will need a comprehensive regional solution, conceivably with support from a reinvigorated Quartet that includes greater engagement with key Arab states. While the international community, however, has a critical responsibility to support a peace process, a lasting solution can only be achieved by the parties themselves.