With tensions mounting in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip following yesterday’s discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teenagers missing since mid-June, the United Nations is today calling strongly on all Israelis and Palestinians to exercise maximum restraint and to prevent the situation from worsening further.
“I call on all sides to avoid steps that can further exacerbate an already tense atmosphere,” Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said in a statement.
He emphasized that the perpetrators must be brought to justice, “as any association with or support for terror or violence must be rejected and will have consequences for those concerned.”
“In this regard, I continue to be deeply troubled by statements from Hamas representatives suggesting support for this heinous act,” the envoy said, strongly condemning the murder of the three students, who went missing on 12 June and whose bodies were found northwest of Hebron yesterday.
News agencies have citied rising tensions since Israeli troops discovered the bodies. Israel has blamed Hamas for the murders and militants in Hamas-controlled Gaza have reportedly stepped up rocket attacks, drawing Israeli airstrikes.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a Palestinian teenager was killed overnight by Israeli forces in the northern West Bank, bringing to 7 the number of Palestinians killed in the area, including 3 teenagers, since 12 June.
Also, last night, at least 6 Palestinians were injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank. OHCHR has also noted an increase in rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and air and sea strikes by Israeli forces in Gaza, additional movement restrictions and incidents of settler violence in the West Bank.
The risk of widespread violence has raised concerns among UN officials, including Mr. Serry and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who yesterday expressed hope “that Israeli and Palestinian authorities will work together to bring the perpetrators swiftly to justice.”
OHCHR joined those officials and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in extending condolences and sincere sympathy to the families of the three teenagers, and in calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
“We call on all Israelis and Palestinians to exercise maximum restraint and to prevent the situation from worsening further,” OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva, reiterating the Office’s call for strict adherence to international law by all relevant actors to avoid further loss of life, injuries and negative impact on human rights.
“We urge all parties to refrain from punishing individuals for offences they have not personally committed or by imposing collective penalties,” she added.
In a statement to the press later in the day, the UN Security Council also condemned the murder of the three teens and, underlining the need to bring perpetrators to justice, “encouraged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to continue working together to do so.”
Urging all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation, the Council also reiterated the need to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians and their protection, and urged all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law.
Meanwhile, in its own press statement, UNICEF condemned the abduction and killing of the Israeli teens, and added: “This latest act of violence is a tragic and terrible reminder of the toll that senseless hatred is taking on both Israeli and Palestinian children.
“We hope that these events will not fuel further violence. We urge all parties to exercise the utmost restraint, and do everything in their power to protect all children – Palestinian and Israeli – from harm.”