The Security Council convened on the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza this evening, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warning that today’s deadly Israeli shelling of United Nations schools where hundreds of Gazans had sought refuge made a ceasefire more urgent than ever.
“Three UNRWA [UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East] schools, set up by the United Nations as places of refuge for civilians fleeing the fighting, have been hit in adjacent Israeli strikes,” Mr. Ban told the Council at the start of the session, noting that the third strike at a school in Jabalia refugee camp killed dozens of civilians.
“These attacks by Israeli military forces which endanger UN facilities acting as places of refuge are totally unacceptable, and should not be repeated. Equally unacceptable are any actions by Hamas militants which endanger the Palestinian civilian population. Today’s events underscore the dangers inherent in the continuation and escalation of this conflict. I call once again for an immediate ceasefire.”
He said had stressed to United States President George W. Bush in a meeting earlier today the importance of acting immediately, as he had in meetings with Arab leaders, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, noting that he had repeatedly condemned indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas into Israel and the excessive use of force by Israel with the stated aim of bringing an end to such attacks and a change in the security conditions in Southern Israel.
The Secretary-General added that he intended to travel to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory next week as well as to regional capitals. “But I do not believe we can wait until then to end the violence. We must achieve that now,” he declared.
According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health and media sources, over 570 Palestinians have already been killed, and over 2,700 have been injured with Israel’s offensive moving into its 12th day.
“In the midst of this fighting, the civilian population of Gaza faces a humanitarian crisis,” Mr. Ban said. “Entire families have perished in the violence, including women and children, UN staff, and medical workers. There are no shelters for the vast majority of the civilian population. Food and fuel supplies are insufficient. A million people have no electricity. A quarter of a million have no running water.
“The only answer is an end to the violence. Whatever the rationale of the combatants, only an end to violence and a political way forward, can deliver long-term security and peace.”
He welcomed today’s initiative by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French President Nicolas Sarkozy for an immediate ceasefire, with the opening of safe corridors for relief into Gaza, and an invitation to Israelis and Palestinians to meet to discuss how to avoid a resumption of fighting, including securing borders and lifting the blockade of Gaza, which Israel says Hamas rocket and other attacks have forced it to impose.
“Third parties will need to provide assistance, both on the ground and in terms of diplomatic support, to supervise and safeguard all the various elements of a ceasefire. Gaza’s enormous social relief and reconstruction needs will need to be addressed,” Mr. Ban said, calling on all Member States to respond promptly and generously to UNRWA’s appeal for funds.
And he stressed the urgent need to achieve Palestinian unity and the reunification of Gaza with the West Bank within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority. Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist nor the international two-state plan for Israel and Palestine to live side by side in peace, seized control of Gaza from the Authority last year.
Following Mr. Ban, President Abbas appealed to the 15-member Council to stop the “new catastrophe” at the hands of “the Israeli machine of destruction” now befalling the Palestinian people. “The massacre in the UNRWA school at the Jabaliya camp is new proof of the heinous crime committed against our people,” he said, calling for a full cessation of “Israeli aggression” so that political dialogue could resume.
“Any procrastination can only deepen the tragedy,” he added, stressing that an international force was needed to end the “unjust siege” of Gaza by opening all crossings, calling for a mutual and complete ceasefire, and voicing support for the plan proposed by Presidents Mubarak and Sarkozy.
“Put an end to this genocide and destruction,” he concluded. “Do not allow for the killing of one more Palestinian child. Do not let one more Palestinian mother cry for her children. Do not allow it. Put an end to the massacre of my people, let my people live and let my people be free.”
Speaking next, Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev noted that 8,000 rockets and mortars had been aimed against Israel from Gaza over the past eight years. “No state would permit such attacks on its citizens, nor should it,” she said, adding that Hamas was vehemently opposed to peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Hamas has no interest in making peace with the enemy; for Hamas peace is the enemy. Its only interest is in establishing a regime of tyranny for Gazans and of terror for Israelis,” she stressed, charging that Hamas uses civilians as shields, hides its missiles and terrorist bases in homes, hospitals and mosques, and “as we saw earlier today, deliberately launches attacks from in and around schools and densely populated areas – with tragic results…
“This conflict will end not when terrorism is appeased or accommodated but when the international community stands determined and united against it,” she said.
The Council session is to continue tomorrow.