Tor Wennesland Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Briefing to the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, 8 August 2022 – Occupied Palestinian Territory

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Mister President,

Members of the Security Council,

The past few days have witnessed a deeply worrying escalation in the Gaza Strip between Israeli military forces and Palestinian armed groups, primarily the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Preliminary figures, which have yet to be confirmed, indicate that as of August 5, the Israel Defense Forces launched 147 airstrikes against targets in Gaza. Palestinian militants launched approximately 1,100 rockets and mortars at Israel, many of which landed deep inside Israeli territory. During the escalation, 46 Palestinians were killed and 360 injured, and hundreds of residential homes were damaged or destroyed, along with other civilian infrastructure. Seventy Israelis were injured, with damage to homes and other civilian structures.

Last night, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office announced in separate statements that a ceasefire had been agreed and would come into effect on August 7 at 11:30 p.m. The ceasefire remains in place as I speak.

I welcome this agreement and I am grateful to Egypt for its crucial role in securing the ceasefire, alongside the United Nations, and I appreciate the very important support provided by Qatar, the United States, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and others to defuse the situation. Together, these combined efforts helped prevent the outbreak of a full-scale war and, this morning, delivered much-needed humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza.

The United Nations remains in close contact with all parties to consolidate the ceasefire and ensure that the significant progress made towards the easing of restrictions, which we have seen since the end of the escalation last May, can be preserved and eventually extended.

Mister President,

This most recent escalation has its roots in deeper tensions, which have been rising for months across the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

Tensions spiked in the West Bank in March and April this year, particularly after five terror attacks – the deadliest in years – that took place inside Israel. Following these attacks, the Israeli authorities intensified their military operations inside the occupied West Bank, with a significant number of these operations taking place in Jenin, focusing on Palestinian militant groups operating in the area.

On August 1, Israeli security forces arrested Bassem as-Saadi, a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader in the occupied West Bank, and his son-in-law. A 17-year-old Palestinian, whom the PIJ claimed as an affiliate, was killed during the operation.

The PIJ immediately declared a “state of alert” and raised the level of readiness of its militants. In response to the threats, Israel closed the crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip on August 2 and implemented measures restricting the movement of civilians in the so-called “Gaza envelope”.

Tensions have risen amid highly inflammatory rhetoric from Palestinian militant groups.

The UN, Egypt and others have begun intensive mediation efforts to avoid an escalation.

On August 5, Israeli forces carried out a series of airstrikes against reported military targets, including a senior PIJ commander in Gaza, who was killed in the attack. Hours later, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other militant factions launched more than 100 rockets and other indiscriminate projectiles from civilian neighborhoods inside the Gaza Strip toward civilian population centers in Israel, including Tel Aviv. , central Israel and the Gaza envelope.

Over the next few days, Israeli air and artillery strikes against militant targets in Gaza and rocket fire by Palestinian militants into Israel continued intensively.

Mister President,

The escalation has taken its toll on the civilian population. I repeat, the figures we present are initial and the verification is in progress.

From August 5 to 7, 46 Palestinians were killed, including 20 civilians – 15 children and four women. According to official Israeli sources, the strikes killed 21 operatives, mostly affiliated with the PIJ.

Gaza’s health ministry reported 360 Palestinian injuries, including at least 151 children and 58 women.
At least ten houses were completely destroyed and 48 severely damaged and rendered uninhabitable.

According to Gaza authorities, more than 600 homes were damaged, displacing 84 families.

Around 1,100 rockets and mortars were fired by Palestinian armed groups, mainly the PIJ’s Al Quds Brigades. Some 20% of them are said to have washed up in the Gaza Strip, causing damage and, in at least three cases, a large number of civilian casualties; UN monitoring of incidents is ongoing. Of those who crossed the border, most were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome, but some caused property damage. Israeli sources reported 70 injured, including nine children.

I condemn the indiscriminate launching of rockets from densely populated residential areas in Gaza into civilian population centers in Israel, which endangers Palestinian and Israeli civilians and violates international humanitarian law.

While fully acknowledging Israel’s legitimate security concerns, I reiterate that under international law any use of force must be proportionate and take all possible measures to avoid civilian casualties.

Children, in particular, should never be the target of violence or put in danger.

Mister President,

In the context of the escalation in Gaza, tensions remained high in the occupied West Bank. From the start of the escalation, Palestinians staged demonstrations in several places to protest Israeli strikes on Gaza. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement condemning the Israeli strikes and reiterating his call for the international community to protect the Palestinians.

Mister President,

In addition to the deaths, injuries and destruction of property, the total closure of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings for six days had serious humanitarian consequences for Palestinians in the Strip.

Gaza was on the brink of humanitarian collapse last night when the ceasefire went into effect.

As with all escalations, there are dire humanitarian consequences and a complete breakdown of all normal supply lines and essential services.

Basic food, medical supplies and fuel could not enter.

As a result, on August 6, Gaza’s only power station shut down, causing power outages of more than 20 hours a day and severely impacting the provision of basic essential services and facilities, such as hospitals and clinics, schools, water desalination and distribution, and wastewater treatment.

Chronic shortages of essential medicines and equipment in Gaza have been exacerbated by the escalation; and, the closure of Erez prevented the daily passage of about fifty patients requiring specialized care in Israel.

The closures have also worsened the already precarious food security situation in the Gaza Strip, reducing stocks of staple foods, especially wheat flour.

The ceasefire announced last night has allowed the resumption of essential movements of goods and people in and out of Gaza, including the delivery of humanitarian aid and fuel for the power plant in Gaza.

I welcome the timely reopening by the Israeli authorities of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings following the entry into force of the ceasefire. The opening of Kerem Shalom allowed 23 trucks of fuel to enter the Gaza Strip today, allowing the Gaza power plant to resume normal operations from 8 p.m. local time tonight.

My Deputy and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Lynn Hastings, entered Gaza this morning and is leading the UN and humanitarian response on the ground. She spent the day meeting with UN and humanitarian agencies, families affected by the escalation and civil society groups, and assessing damage and needs. The cost will be high.

Mister President,

The escalation in recent days came just over a year after the escalation at the end of May 2021 in Gaza. The devastating impact of this conflict is still present today.

In the months following the May 2021 hostilities, gradual but significant progress has been made in opening up Gaza to the movement of people and goods. These measures have helped to improve living conditions on the Strip. It is imperative that we see a resumption of the measures that were in place and that we continue our efforts to extend them further. We pledge to support the full implementation of the ceasefire agreement, to ensure the safety and security of the civilian population and to monitor the file of Palestinian prisoners.

Mister President,

Yesterday, the Secretary-General welcomed the announcement of the ceasefire and called on all parties to respect the agreement. I echo the appeal of the Secretary-General.

I want to make the Council aware of the following: the ceasefire is fragile. Any resumption of hostilities will only have devastating consequences for Palestinians and Israelis, and will make political progress on key issues elusive.

Ultimately, the underlying factors of this and previous escalations remain. These cycles of violence will only end when we achieve a political resolution to the conflict ending the occupation and achieving a two-state solution along the 1967 lines, in accordance with UN resolutions, the international law and agreements.

I reiterate my call on the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as the international community, to redouble their diplomatic efforts to resume constructive negotiations towards a viable two-State solution.

Thanks.

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