De-escalation ‘an absolute must’ in Israel-Palestine conflict – UN Chief

Antonio Guterres, UN chief

By Cecilia Ologunagba

UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared on Wednesday that de-escalation of the Palestine-Israel conflict was “an absolute must”, saying that the mounting death toll, including children, is totally unacceptable.

Guterres, after meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow, said that an end to the violence was needed “to protect the lives of civilians that are now dying in totally unacceptable circumstances”.

According to news reports, the violence has seen more than 50 Palestinians killed along with six Israelis since Monday.

Meanwhile, in New York, the renewed conflict represents the most serious escalation between Israelis and Palestinians “in years”, the UN Special Coordinator for the region told the Security Council.

UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, briefed reporters in New York at the regular noon press conference, on the update given by Tor Wennesland to the Council, which met behind closed doors.

“We are very concerned by the growing civilian casualties in both Gaza and Israel, and deeply saddened by reported deaths of children in Gaza,” Dujarric said.

He said that both the Secretary-General and Wennesland had both reiterated that “Hamas and other militants’ indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars violated the humanitarian law.

“They have emphasised that indiscriminate launching of rockets from highly populated civilian neighbourhoods towards civilian population centres violated international humanitarian law, and it is unacceptable and has to stop immediately.”

The spokesperson said the Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process had also told ambassadors that Israeli authorities must “abide by their responsibilities under international law”.

In addition, he said that Israeli security forces should exercise maximum restraint, calibrate their use of force to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of military operations.

The Secretary-General is “particularly appalled that children continue to be victims of violence”, said Dujarric, adding that youngsters needed to be given special protection.

“He and his Envoy have called on the international community to take action to enable the parties to step back from the brink and return to the previous understandings.

“To return to previous understanding that have maintained a relative calm in Gaza and avoid a descent into chaos, with the massive casualties and immense damage to civilian infrastructure that would result,” the spokesperson said.

Wennesland, however, reminded Council members that it was the civilian population on both sides, that bore the burden of war and that the most vulnerable are the ones at greatest risk of suffering.

He also told the Council that the cycle of violence would only end with a political resolution of the conflict, an end to the occupation and a realisation of a two-State solution on the basis of UN resolutions, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States.

Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, said on Wednesday that at least 14 children in Palestine and one child in Israel have been reported killed since Monday.

She noted that another 95 children in Gaza and the West Bank – including East Jerusalem – and three children in Israel have reportedly been injured in the past five days.

“The situation is at a dangerous tipping point. The level of violence and its impact on children is devastating. We are on the brink of a full-scale war. In any war, children – all children – suffer first and suffer most”.

She urged all sides to “protect all civilians, especially children, to spare essential civilian infrastructure from attacks, and to end violations against children”. (NAN)