'Shocking, unsustainable and desperate' conditions across Gaza, Security Council hears

UN News | Updated: 23-02-2024 12:38 IST | Created: 22-02-2024 21:58 IST
'Shocking, unsustainable and desperate' conditions across Gaza, Security Council hears
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The Security Council met on Thursday at UN Headquarters in New York on the situation in the Gaza Strip, wracked by months of unrelenting war and tensions spilling into the wider Middle East region, with no solutions on the horizon to stop the fighting.

 Tor Wennesland, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told ambassadors that “there is still no end in sight” as the war approaches its 140-day mark.

“No end to the trauma of those impacted by the horrors unleashed on 7 October. No end to the suffering and desperation the people in Gaza. No end to the regional turmoil.”

Mr. Wennesland visited Gaza this week and described the humanitarian situation there as shocking, unsustainable and desperate.

Humanitarian situation

Internally displaced Palestinians are facing acute shortages of food, water, shelter and medicine, while communicable diseases are rising sharply unsanitary conditions and there is a “near total breakdown” in law and order.

He added that the UN Humanitarian Coordinator has a plan to deliver the essentials – food, shelter, medicine and water/sanitation – but the UN’s capacity to deliver depends on coordinated humanitarian movements, effective deconfliction with the parties and Israeli approvals for essential communications equipment and armored vehicles – “all of which provide the minimum conditions for staff to work safely.”

“This must be improved – UN convoys and compounds must not be hit and our equipment needs clearance,” he stressed.

“Keeping Gaza on a drip-feed not only deprives a desperate population of life-saving support, it drives even greater chaos that further impedes humanitarian delivery,” he added.

Dialogue, not violence

Warning that the scale of the emergency could quickly spiral out of control, Mr. Wennesland appealed for a collective, coordinated and comprehensive response to not only address the immediate crisis in the Strip but to help restore a political horizon for Palestinians and Israelis, alike.

“To do this, we urgently need a deal to achieve a humanitarian ceasefire and the release of hostages,” he stressed, adding also the need to create the space for dialogue over violence.

“Ultimately, the only long-term solution for Gaza is political,” said Mr. Wennesland.

“While taking into account Israel’s legitimate security concern, there must be a clear path toward restoring single, effective Palestinian governance across the OPT (occupied Palestinian Territory), including in Gaza,” he added.

Two-State solution

Alongside, international support for strengthening and reforming the Palestinian Authority to improve domestic and international legitimacy will be crucial.

To create these conditions, Mr. Wennesland called for a time bound political framework to end the occupation and negotiate a two-State solution.

“These efforts must coalesce and accelerate if we are to emerge from this nightmare into a trajectory that can provide Palestinians and Israelis with the chance of lasting peace,” he concluded.


Veto is costing lives, warns MSF

Also briefing the Council was Christopher Lockyear, Secretary General, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders.

Fearful of further deadly Israeli attacks, he said he was “appalled” by the United States’ repeated use of its veto power to obstruct efforts to adopt the most evident of resolutions: one demanding an immediate ceasefire.

“We live in fear of a ground invasion” in Rafah, he said.

Calling Washington’s new proposed draft resolution “misleading at best”, he said the Council should reject any resolution “that further hampers humanitarian efforts on the ground and leads this Council to tacitly endorse the continued violence and mass atrocities in Gaza”.

Constants attacks against healthcare

“Attacks on healthcare is an attack against humanity,” he said, noting that while Israel claims Hamas is operating in hospitals, “we have seen no independently verified evidence of this.”

Not 48 hours ago, Israeli shelling and gunfire killed and injured MSF staff and their families in Khan Younis, despite notification to the warring parties of the location, which was marked with an MSF flag, he said, recalling that some were trapped in the burning building, which active shooting delayed ambulances from reaching them in what has become an “all too familiar” pattern of Israeli forces raiding hospitals, bulldozing MSF vehicles and attacking its convoys.

“This pattern of attacks is either intentional or indicative of reckless incompetence,” he said, adding that his colleagues in Gaza are fearful that as he speaks to the Council today, they will be punished tomorrow.

“The laws and the principles we collectively depend on to enable humanitarian assistance are now eroded to the point of becoming meaningless,” he said.

Humanitarian response is ‘an illusion’

In the face of killings and maiming of aid workers, “the humanitarian response in Gaza today is an illusion,” he said, adding that efforts to provide aid are “haphazard, opportunistic, and entirely inadequate”.

“How can we deliver lifesaving aid in an environment where the distinction between civilians and combatants is disregarded?” he asked, adding that his teams are exhausted. “Calls for more humanitarian assistance have echoed across this Chamber, yet in Gaza we have less and less each day – less space, less medicine, less food, less water, less safety.”

Since 7 October, MSF has been forced to evacuate nine health facilities, and medical teams have added a new acronym to their vocabulary – “W.C.N.S.F., Wounded Child, No Surviving Family”, he said.

Citing a new draft resolution being negotiated by the US he said that Gazans "need a ceasefire not when ‘practicable’, but now". “They need a sustained ceasefire, not a ‘temporary period of calm’. Anything short of this is gross negligence.”

Israeli offensive into Rafah should not proceed: US

Following the briefings, Robert Wood, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN said that the best way to advance an enduring peace and Israel’s security is to support the creation of an independent Palestinian State side by side with Israel.

“The realization of this vision, however, continues to face numerous obstacles,” he said.

“These obstacles include Hamas and other groups’ continued holding of 134 hostages. I said it before, and I say it again – there can be no sustainable ceasefire in Gaza without the hostages being released.”

He told ambassadors that the pace of hostage talks can be frustrating and complicated, and that negotiations at “such high stakes” do not always yield immediate results.

Qatar talks

“For this reason, we are working day in and day out with our partners in Egypt and Qatar to achieve a positive result that will bring the hostages home and result in a six weeklong cessation in fighting,” he said, adding that he shared the “profound concerns” for the wellbeing of over one million Palestinian civilians in Rafah.

US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken “made clear to Israel”, that under current circumstances, a major ground offensive into Rafah would result in civilian harm and displacement, including potentially spillover into Egypt, with serious implications for regional peace and security.

“As such, we have underscored that such a major ground offensive should not proceed under current circumstances,” he said.

“These statements are a clear signal Israel should not proceed with an operation that, we know, will create more suffering and worsen the humanitarian crisis in the absence of a viable plan to protect civilians.”

Russia: Hostage release hinges on ceasefire

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said aggressive Israeli bombardment has killed more than 29,000 Palestinians, with 80 per cent of Gaza’s population displaced, and the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Rafah threatening to cross the Egyptian border.

“It is clear that real leverage over Israel is something Washington does not have,” he said, adding that that path to peace is being blocked by the US. “The release of hostages cannot take place without a ceasefire.”

By giving the “green light” to a ground operation in Rafah, the Council’s impasse has resulted in the spillover of the conflict in the region, he said, adding that Western nations’ use of force against Iraq, Syria and Yemen undermines the central role of the UN as well as international law.

Turning to Israel’s accusations against UNRWA, he said the collective punishment of Palestinians is no more than “donor blackmail”, condemning attempts to smear the UN agency.

The only way to resolve the conflict is through diplomatic means through a two-State formula, along with the release of all hostages.

China: Spectre of wider war looms

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun, regretting to note the US veto of Algeria’s draft resolution on Gaza this week, saying only an immediate ceasefire in Gaza will save lives and prevent a wider war. The US has tabled a new draft, which he hoped would respond positively to the Council’s ovewhelming support for a ceasefire.

“At this point, the Council needs to demonstrate a strong result,” he said. “It is the duty of this Council to slam on the breaks to avoid greater calamity. Incursions into Rafah would cause irreparable damage to regional peace.”

As such, Israel should cancel its plans to invade Rafah, where more than one million Palestinians are sheltering, he said, adding that efforts must swiftly help aid into Gaza. In that regard, he said UNRWA plays a vital, indispensable and irreplaceable role, calling on donors to continue to fund the agency.

“Right now, the Middle East is in turmoil, and the spectre of a wider war is looming,” he said, calling on all parties to refrain from attacks and try to break the vicious cycle of conflict.

In this regard, the two-State solution should be given a “new lease on life”, he said. “The historical wrongs against Palestine must be righted.”

Calling for ceasefire will not end the fighting: UK

UK Ambassador Barbara Woodward said “we want the fighting to stop now, but simply calling for ceasefire will not serve this goal.”

“We are calling for an immediate suspension of hostilities and then for progress towards a ceasefire, which means the release of all hostages, the formation of a new government for the West Bank and Gaza and the removal of Hamas capability to launch another attack against Israel,” she said, adding that Hamas should no longer be in charge of Gaza.

A “credible political horizon” must be opened, she continued.

Gravely concerned by the prospect of an Israeli offensive in Rafah, she said the immediate priority must be a suspension in fighting.

Raising concerns that WFP had to pause delivery of food to northern Gaza, she said Israel must help the UN deliver aid and open more crossing points to Gaza and must take all measures to ensure the safety of medical staff.

“Now more than ever, we need to generate momentum towards a permanent peace with the two-State solution,” she said.

France: Regional spillover must urgently be avoided

Nicholas de Rivière, the Ambassador of France, underlined the extreme urgency to conclude, without further delay, an agreement on a ceasefire that guarantees the protection of all civilians and the entry at massive scale, of humanitarian aid.

All hostages must be released immediately and unconditionally, he said, adding that this issue must become a priority of the Council, which must also be able to clearly condemn the 7 October attacks committed by Hamas and terrorist groups, as well as sexual and gender-based violence.

It is equally essential to restore a political horizon and work towards building a state for the Palestinians and establishing security guarantees for Israel. The two-State solution is the only one that can build a just and lasting peace.

This solution is threatened in particular by the illegal colonization policy carried out by Israel, which France strongly condemns.

Finally, it is urgent to avoid a regional conflagration, he said, noting that France will continue to mobilize the Council on all aspects of the crisis, security, humanitarian, but also political. 

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