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Legitimate national aspirations of #Israelis, #Palestinians can only be realized in two states

07/03/2017 Leave a comment

LASOn March 7th I addressed the 71st session of the Foreign Minister’s Council of the League of Arab States in Cairo on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian Question.

I started by noting the unfaltering commitment of the League to supporting the Palestinian people in their rightful quest to put an end to a half-century of occupation and establish an independent state of their own.

Today, as the region faces challenges however, what is required is that all moderate forces work together against the common threat of extremism and terror. The Arab League has extended its hand through the Arab Peace Initiative. But true peace will remain elusive without the recognition that

both Palestinians and Israelis have legitimate national aspirations

that can only be realized in two states that live in peace, security and mutual recognition. That is why now is not the time to give up on the two-state solution. Unfortunately, it is being undermined not so much by statements, but by policies and actions. Settlement  expansion, violence, and the absence of visionary leadership continue to define the conflict.

I spoke of the grim reality, the anger and the frustration on the ground. The adoption of the so-called “Regularisation Law”, which contravenes international law; legislative attempts to annex parts of the West Bank; a rise in the demolition of Palestinian structures and the situation in Gaza — all these developments eat away at the two-state solution, destroy hope and strengthen the hand of extremists.

Since the beginning of the year significant settlement moves have been made in the occupied West Bank. These have included tenders for around 800 units and the advancement of plans for over 3,300 units, some of which have reached the final approval stage. Construction has also been advanced in East Jerusalem.

 

I expressed my concern by continuing violence. So-called “lone wolf” attacks continue, though greatly reduced as compared to 2016. Clashes also continue and the UN has repeatedly warned that the use of force must be calibrated.

And I spoke about Gaza that for the last 10 years has remained under the control of Hamas. where after three brutal conflicts, Israel’s crippling closures and the decade-long political divide, two million Palestinians are trapped in a humanitarian tragedy. All this has convinced many that there is no hope for peace.

Much work remains as 50,000 Palestinians live in temporary shelters. The UN needs some USD 160 million for the reconstruction of nearly 4,000 totally destroyed homes in Gaza. Addressing chronic challenges, such as unemployment and access to basic services of water and energy, must remain a priority.

I used the meeting to once again call for the illicit arms build-up, militant activity and provocations to stop. They risk renewed escalation and further suffering for all.

Unfortunately these negative trends — settlement expansion, violence and the situation in Gaza, entrench a dangerous one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict. They must be urgently reversed.

We need a new approach to restore hope and create a political horizon.

In December, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2334 that reiterated some of the key obstacles to achieving a negotiated two-state solution. Later in January, at the Paris Conference, the international community reaffirmed its commitment to the two-state solution and to the need for follow up and international engagement. The Arab League engagement must also play its role in furthering these objectives. So must the parties.

Israel must demonstrate its commitment to the two-state solution by ceasing illegal settlement activities and by implementing policy shifts consistent with prior agreements that increase Palestinian civil authority. Palestine must continue its state-building investment and tackle the challenges of violence and unity. Just days before the meeting the Palestinian government, civil society and the business community finalised an ambitious National Policy Agenda. This was an important step forward. Translating that vision into reality is critical to strengthening the foundations for a future Palestinian state and the UN stands ready to support it.

In closing I reminded everyone that resolutions and communiques alone are not enough. What is required is action. Action by the leaders themselves. Action by the international community and the region.

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

#WestBank demolitions reflect #Israel’s systematic policy of denying #Palestinian development

27/07/2016 1 comment
A boy walks past the rubble of a Palestinian house after it was demolished by Israeli troops in the West Bank village of Qalandia near Ramallah July 26, 2016. © Mohamad Torokman / Reuters

A boy walks past the rubble of a Palestinian house after it was demolished by Israeli troops in the West Bank village of Qalandia near Ramallah July 26, 2016. © Mohamad Torokman / Reuters

Two days ago, I issued a statement strongly condemning the advancement of plans for settlement units in Gilo and efforts to re-establish an outpost near Hebron. Since then, demolitions have taken place in Qalandiya and occupied East Jerusalem that reflect Israel’s systematic policy of denying Palestinian development in the occupied West Bank. This challenge was highlighted by the recently published Middle East Quartet Report which concluded that “the continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, designation of land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development, including the recent high rate of demolitions, is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution“.

For months the UN has been warning that there has been a significant increase in the number of Palestinian structures demolished across the West Bank. This was particularly visible in the first four months of 2016, with some 500 demolitions of Palestinian structures by the Israeli authorities and nearly 800 Palestinians displaced, more than in all of 2015. In East Jerusalem, 64 Palestinian structures were demolished from January to June of 2016. Vulnerable Bedouin and farming communities are most heavily impacted by these demolitions.

The United States, the Russian Federation, the EU and the UN, as part of the Middle East Quartet, jointly called on Israel “to cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, designating land for exclusive Israeli use, and denying Palestinian development“. I reiterate this call as such actions are dangerously imperiling the two-state solution.

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.

It is time to to reverse the growing perception that the two-state solution is on life-support, slowly dying a death ‘by a thousand cut’

23/07/2015 Leave a comment
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UN Secuirty Council considers situation in the Middle East in open debate. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Today I spoke at the Secuirty Council open debate on the Middle East. 46 countries had signed up to speak on a number of issues that relate to the situation in a region currently torn by religious radicalism, age-old sectarian rivalries and geopolitical realignments, one conflict has endured for over 65 years. Some see it as the core problem in the region; others dismiss it as unrelated to the current turmoil. Either way, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is increasingly entangled in the tectonic shifts of the Middle East. Given the region’s massive transformation, it is imperative — perhaps more than ever before — that a permanent settlement be found, based on the concept of two states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable Palestine, living side by side in peace, security and mutual recognition.
In my remarks I noted that despite continuing security coordination in the West Bank, today the two sides are further apart from that goal than ever. Support for the two-state solution among both Palestinians and Israelis is fading away. The current situation on the ground is not sustainable as the two-state solution continues to be under threat including from settlement construction, security incidents, occupation-related violence, and lack of Palestinian unity.

In the absence of a political process, the rise of violent extremism and terrorism in the region present a danger as much to the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians for statehood, as to the security of Israel.

In the current environment of mistrust we in the international community must work with Israelis and Palestinians to create the conditions on the ground, regionally and internationally, that will facilitate a return to meaningful negotiations on the basis of an agreed framework and within a reasonable timeframe.

On the ground, both parties must undertake steps that demonstrate their continued commitment to a two-state solution, including through the implementation of existing agreements and by avoiding unilateral actions.

Advancing the two-state solution requires a fundamental change in policy with regard to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. I welcome the recent decision by Israel to add 8,000 new work permits for Palestinians from the West Bank, bringing the number of permits issued for employment in Israel to a new high of some 60,000. This and other similar initiatives should be sustained and expanded, while much more needs to be done for improving the quality of life for Palestinians.

Unilateral actions in the West Bank, including settlement construction, so-called legalisation of outposts, demolitions and evictions must stop.

While settlement expansion had slowed of late, planning for related infrastructure has not ceased. I am concerned by recent reports about the imminent approval of new residential units in the occupied West Bank. Such a decision will inevitably damage the prospects for peace and increase the risk for political escalation. I urge the Israeli authorities to reconsider this action. Settlements are illegal under international law and undermine the very essence and the viability of a future Palestinian state.

Meanwhile the Palestinian people rightly expect their leaders to act to advance unity and empower their government to take control of the border crossings in Gaza, implement civil service integration, pay public sector salaries and ensure that the governance framework between the West Bank and Gaza is integrated under a single authority. These efforts will pave the way for much delayed elections to take place.

I called on all Palestinian groups to avoid in-fighting and find common ground, on the basis of non-violence and reconciliation, to achieve national unity which is critical for a two-state solution.

The Secretary-General stands ready to work with the Security Council and our partners in the Middle East Quartet on a reinvigorated effort to create the conditions for the return to meaningful negotiations. In this context, I noted the proposed establishment of an international support group that could contribute to such efforts. In the past month, the Quartet envoys, as part of an active outreach effort, engaged constructively with Egypt, with Jordan and with the League of Arab States. I took the opportunity to encourage the leadership of Israel to endorse the Arab Peace Initiative as an important contribution to a resolution to the conflict.

July 8th marked the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Gaza’s painstaking emergence from last summer’s conflict is undermining belief among the population that genuine progress can be achieved. Activities of Salafi jihadists and other extremist groups are a cause for concern not only in Gaza, but also in neighboring Sinai, where there are reports of their active support for militants on the Egyptian side of the border.

On 18 July, six cars were blown up in Gaza city. Palestinian Salafi militants launched a rocket at Israel on 16 July, which exploded in an open area near Ashkelon. In response, Israel conducted four airstrikes against militant infrastructure targets in Gaza. Militants also fired a rocket from the Sinai on 3 July, which landed in Israel across the Egyptian border, highlighting the potential for violence in the Sinai to expand beyond Egypt’s borders.

The Secretary-General calls on all actors in Gaza to provide information as to the possible whereabouts and conditions of two Israeli civilians who had entered Gaza sometime over the past year and remain unaccounted for, as well as to take prompt action to facilitate their safe return to their families.

These, and other incidents, underscore the fragile dynamics within Gaza that – without positive change – will continue to provide fertile ground for extremism to flourish.

Last month, the Palestinian Authority and Israel reached a welcome agreement on a new mechanism to allow Palestinians in Gaza access to construction material for the reconstruction of fully destroyed homes and for new construction. Close to 700 families have already been cleared and over 160 of these have purchased the required construction materials.

Given this positive development, I took this opportunity to once again, urge donors to fulfill their pledges, in particular those allocated to housing construction and to addressing Gaza’s urgent energy and water needs.

I also welcomed recent agreement to install an additional scanner for containers at the Kerem Shalom crossing. This should enable a substantial increase in exports from and imports into Gaza.

The lifting of the Gaza closures within the framework of Un Security Council has resolution 1860 (2009) remains an important objective of the United Nations. Absent this, the UN continues to work with the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to support vital efforts to rebuild the lives of people in Gaza.

Turning to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, while the frequency of security incidents decreased compared to last month, the situation has remained tense.

Israeli security forces conducted some 186 search-and-arrest operations, resulting in the arrest of some 300 Palestinians. Meanwhile Palestinian security forces also arrested over 100 people in the West Bank. I continue to be concerned by the situation of Palestinian prisoners, including those on hunger strike, held in Israel. All held in administrative detention should be promptly charged and tried in a court of law, or released without delay.

In total, 50 Palestinians were injured, and four were shot and killed by Israeli security forces, including two at checkpoints near Nablus and Ramallah. Two members of the Israeli security forces were stabbed and injured, one seriously.

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli civilians in the West Bank also continued, resulting in the death of one Israeli and injury to eight Israelis and nine Palestinians, including one child.

Just as such incidents contribute to the lack of hope and anger which feed a continuing cycle of violence and highlight the imperative to seek a resolution to this conflict, so too do the demolitions and displacement in the West Bank.

On 12 July, Israel announced that it would seek to execute demolition orders of structures in the Palestinian village of Susiya in Area C. This comes ahead of a court hearing, scheduled for 3 August, on a directly related planning-approval process. The Secretary-General joins the United States and the European Union in expressing his deep concern about the demolition and displacement plans for Susiya. Earlier today my Deputy Special Coordinator visited the community. We hope that the ongoing dialogue between Israeli authorities and the herding community will protect the rights of the persons affected.

Against this backdrop intra-Palestinian talks to form a national unity government have faltered. I noted the efforts of President Abbas and Prime Minister Hamdallah to reshuffle the current government and called on them to proceed without delay to appointing the new ministers.

The reshuffling comes at a particularly sensitive time as the Palestinian Authority faces significant financial challenges, including a budget deficit of some $500 million for 2015. This gap cannot be closed through fiscal measures alone, and I urged donors to rapidly scale up their direct budget support. In this respect, it is also important to revive the functioning of the Israeli-Palestinian joint economic committee.

While first and foremost it is up to the Palestinian authorities to take the lead, the UN stands ready to support the President, the Government and all factions in their efforts to reunite the West Bank and Gaza, in line with the intra-Palestinian unity agreement of 23 April 2014.

Palestine is one and the UN will work determinedly to advance unity through its legitimate institutions.

At the end of my presentation I tured to the rest of the region and noted that the UN’s broad engagement continued during the reporting period. Following consultations with Syrian, regional and international parties, next week the Secretary-General and Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura will be briefing the Security Council on their recommendations for moving the political track forward.

In Yemen, Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed extends his good offices with all parties to restart negotiations on a political transition.

In Libya, the UN remains engaged in facilitating talks aimed at ending the current political and security crisis through the formation of a Government of National Accord.

In Iraq, the UN is working to promote political dialogue in the hopes of encouraging national reconciliation.

In Lebanon, Mr. President, concerns grow that political differences are preventing the effective functioning of state institutions, despite Prime Minister Salam’s commendable efforts to run government. There has been no progress in efforts to end the Presidential vacuum. The Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag continues to urge Lebanon’s leaders to put the country’s stability and national interests ahead of partisan politics and elect a President without further delay.

Meanwhile, the situation along the Lebanese border with Syria has remained stable, with the Lebanese Armed Forces continuing their operations to prevent the infiltration of armed extremist groups from Syria. In the south, the situation along the blue line has remained generally calm, despite almost daily Israeli overflights over Lebanese territory. We encouraged both parties to continue to make effective use of UNIFIL’s liaison and coordination mechanisms.

I spoke of my deep concerned about UNRWA’s current unprecedented financial crisis. If the current gap of USD 100 million is not closed in the next weeks there is a serious risk that UNRWA schools, which educate 500,000 children throughout the Middle East, will not open. This will have grave implications for Palestine refugee children in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and for the stability and security of a region already in turmoil.

I strongly urged donors to step up their support for UNRWA at this critical time.

Turning back to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I reiterated our collective resolve to prevent a further deterioration of the situation; to uphold the two-state solution; and to create the conditions for a return to meaningful negotiations.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas recently spoke and reaffirmed their desire for peace. This is a welcome sign. But words need to be translated into concrete and sustained actions on the ground.

But I was also abundantly clear: measures undertaken to improve the situation must not be considered an end unto themselves but part of a broader political framework with the goal of achieving a final status agreement.

Now is the time to act decisively, to act in order to reverse the growing perception that the two-state solution is on life-support, slowly dying a death “by a thousand cuts”.

A comprehensive agreement will require committed engagement with key Arab states, including through the Arab Peace Initiative.

The Secretary-General stands ready to support both sides in order to overcome their divisions and to rise to the challenge of forging a path forward towards a peaceful future.

In closing, I place on record my deep appreciation for the support that the Security Council and the Secretariat have given to the excellent UNSCO team on the ground.

I also welcomeed Mr. Robert Piper of Australia as the new Deputy Special Coordinator who will also serve as the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

#Children are not #soldiers @UNSCO_MEPP

11/06/2015 Leave a comment

Children sitting on top of the ruins of their bedroom in Gaza.

On 8 June, the UN Secretary General published a much anticipated report on Children and Armed Conflict in 2014. Last year saw unprecedented challenges for the protection of tens of millions of children growing up in countries affected by conflict. In Iraq and Syria, over one thousand girls and boys were abducted by ISIL. In one incident in Syria, ISIL abducted approximately 150 young boys on their way home from school exams in Aleppo. It also issued a document justifying the sexual slavery of Yezidi girls abducted in Iraq. In Nigeria, Boko Haram abducted hundreds of girls.

This period was particularly devastating for children in the State of Palestine. The report clearly shows that the Secretary-General is deeply alarmed by the dramatic increase in the number of children killed and injured in the occupied Palestinian territory, where last year 557 children lost their lives. This is the third highest number of children killed in the world after Afghanistan (710) and Iraq (679). No parent should have to bury his or her child, no family should be deprived of the laughter and joy of their children. Behind each of these shocking numbers lies a human tragedy and our prayers and thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their loved ones.

The occupation continues to affect the lives of children on all sides of the conflict. Mohammed, aged 6, and his brother Amir, aged 12, were killed by a drone missile outside their house in Rafah. Daniel, aged 4, was killed by indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. Both families, Palestinian and Israeli, grieve equally for their children.

One child killed is one child too many…

Sadly, in 2014 children have borne the brunt of the third major military offensive in Gaza in six years. The number of Palestinian child casualties in this latest conflict exceeds the combined number killed during the two previous escalations. In the 50 days between 8 July and 26 August, at least 540 Palestinian children were killed (70 per cent of them under 12), and at least 2,955 Palestinian children were injured; preliminary estimates indicate that up to 1,000 of them will be permanently disabled.

In the West Bank, 13 Palestinian boys, aged 11 to 17 years, lost their lives. On 15 May 2014, two Palestinian boys were shot and killed with live ammunition during clashes with Israeli soldiers near Beituniya Checkpoint. Reports indicate that they did not appear to pose a lethal threat. One month later three Israeli youths were abducted. Their bodies were later found near Halhul in northern Hebron. Most shockingly, almost exactly one year ago Muhammad Abu Khudair was burned alive in an apparent revenge attack for the kidnapping and killing of the Israeli youths. Three Israeli civilians were arrested and charged, including two under the age of 18 years. Of the 1,218 children injured in the West Bank, more than half were under age 12, and 91 per cent were injured during confrontations in Hebron and East Jerusalem.

Children are not soldiers

It is painful to even write these words and these numbers and to think of the devastation wrought upon thousands of families. Children are not soldiers and they should be protected from violence. It does not matter where they live, their lives are equally precious. Their schools should not be put at risk by hiding weapons in them, nor should they be bombed; they should not be recruited to fight, nor should they be abused, threatened or killed.

The report makes unmistakably clear how angry the United Nations Secretary-General is with what happened to the children of Gaza last year. The report is more than just a list, it should be read in its entirety. The UN continues to monitor and document the situation in Palestine and Israel and for many years we have been concerned about the impact of the conflict on children there. This concern is growing.

The staggering number of children killed in Gaza last year cannot remain without consequence. The Secretary-General has issued a very strong call on Israel to take concrete and immediate steps to protect and prevent the killing and maiming of children, including through the review of existing policies and practices and by ensuring accountability for perpetrators of alleged violations. He has also firmly warned that all parties that engage in military action which results in grave violations against children, regardless of intent, will be subject to continued United Nations scrutiny, including through the reporting and listing mechanism established by the Security Council. The Israeli and the Palestinian authorities have an obligation to ensure that allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law are promptly, effectively, independently, and impartially investigated, and that those responsible are brought to justice.

By publishing the report, the UN aims to raise global awareness of the violations and to ensure the accountability of all parties whose actions are documented in the report – with the ultimate aim to stop and prevent human rights violations against children. The shocking facts presented in the report speak for themselves. They are an affront to our collective conscience. In the occupied Palestinian territory, people look to the international community to expend every effort to bring about a just peace on the basis of a two-state solution where Palestine and Israel live side by side in peace and security. It is our responsibility to make this happen so that the children of these lands have the future they are entitled to.

The Arabic version of the article was published in Arabic in Al-Quds Newspaper on June 11th 2015