UN Mideast envoy condemns latest escalation in Gaza
UNITED NATIONS, May 30 (Xinhua) -- UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov on Wednesday condemned the latest escalation in Gaza.
The past two days have seen the most serious escalation in Gaza since the 2014 conflict between Hamas and Israel, Mladenov told the Security Council. "They have been a warning to all of us how close we are to the brink of war every day."
Between Monday and Wednesday, 216 projectiles, rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza toward Israel, he quoted the Israeli Defense Forces as saying. Although most of the projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, one hit a kindergarten yard in a kibbutz near the Gaza border and at least another damaged a house, he said.
In response to those rockets and mortars, the Israeli Air Force carried out strikes on 65 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza and destroyed a 2-km tunnel near the Kerem Shalom crossing, said Mladenov.
Fortunately, there have been no casualties on either side, he said.
He condemned the indiscriminate targeting of civilians.
"Such attacks are completely unacceptable. The firing of rockets and mortars against civilians cannot be justified under any circumstances. I take this opportunity to call on the international community to join me in unequivocally condemning these indiscriminate targeting of civilians and the dangerous escalation in Gaza," said Mladenov at an emergency meeting of the Security Council that was requested by the United States.
On Tuesday, Hamas' Qassam Brigades and the Islamic Jihad's Saraya al-Quds claimed joint responsibility for the rockets and mortars fired at Israel, said Mladenov.
Their joint statement blamed Israel for targeting their fighters and military positions during the preceding 48 hours, cautioned against attempts to "dictate new equations" on the status quo, and warned that they would reciprocate "shelling with shelling and blood with blood," said the UN envoy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed, meanwhile, that Israel would "respond with great force" to the rocket attacks as for more than 24 hours Israeli communities around Gaza lived with the fear having mere seconds to seek shelter from incoming rockets, said Mladenov.
He noted that the situation has calmed down since the early hours of Wednesday.
He called on all sides to uphold all understandings and prevent the recurrence of any incidents that jeopardize the lives of Israelis and Palestinians alike.
"It is imperative that this period of calm be preserved at all costs. No one in Gaza can afford another war. No one has the right to play with the lives of 2 million people who have lived through hell in the last decade. No one should live in fear of an indiscriminate rocket attack."
Everyone has a responsibility to do their part to de-escalate and step back from the brink in the interests of their own people and the future of their own children, he said.
The dangerous escalation came after a series of warnings by the United Nations and in the context of recent developments on the ground, he said. "It cannot be divorced from the context of the two months of protests at the Gaza fence in which some 110 Palestinians were killed and large numbers were injured."
As demonstrations and protests in Gaza continue into the month of June, he warned, there may be further violence and further risks of escalation.
Mladenov stressed the importance of action to change the reality in Gaza. "Under the current circumstances, failure to act immediately with a set of relatively modest, achievable interventions will not only amplify the humanitarian crisis but drastically increase the risk of confrontation."
He asked for efforts to prevent a war with potential regional implications, to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the population, and to support Egyptian reconciliation efforts.
"This means that we need to urgently implement already approved projects, revive efforts to empower the government to take up its responsibilities, and very importantly to sustain the 2014 cease-fire understandings on the ground, and halt the militant buildup."
The United Nations will move forward on immediately enhancing its capacity and presence to facilitate project implementation in Gaza and improve coordination with Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority to overcome the political, administrative and logistical blockages, he said.
This plan is the only sustainable way to ensure that we do not slide again into another devastating conflict, that we do not allow Gaza to become a pawn in someone else's plans, another tragedy on an already crowded map of regional Middle East conflicts, he said.
"It is high time that we intensify our calls on Israelis and Palestinians to undertake concrete steps that will advance the goal of a just and sustainable peace," said Mladenov.
"Such actions must encompass the overarching political objectives: the unification of Gaza and the West Bank under a single, democratic and legitimate Palestinian Authority; an end to the occupation; and a resolution of the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of a two-state solution and in line with previous agreements and relevant UN resolutions," he added.