Security Council Members Condemn Killing of Palestinian Civilians in Clashes at Israel-Gaza Border after Peaceful Protest Turned Violent

The Security Council members, in an emergency meeting tonight, condemned the killing of civilians in Gaza during a peaceful protest that had erupted in violence.

Taye-Brook Zerihoun, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefing the Council on the situation, said that what had begun early in the day as a demonstration had devolved into violence at several locations across Gaza, resulting in more than 15 deaths and 1,000 injuries of civilians, with some reportedly coming from live ammunition that had been used by the Israeli security forces.

The demonstration had been meant to begin six weeks of peaceful protests leading up to the commemoration of Al-Nakba, marking 70 years of the expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians from their homes and lands.

The developments in Gaza today are again a painful reminder of the consequences of a missing peace between Israel and Palestine and the need to step up our efforts in support of a peaceful resolution of the conflict, he said, strongly urging Palestinians, Israelis and the international community to take concrete measures to reverse the current course of the conflict and advance the goal of a just and sustainable peace based on the two-State solution.

Following the briefing, Council members expressed grave concern about the possibility of violence spiralling out of control, with many calling for an investigation and for perpetrators to be held accountable.

The representative of Kuwait, whose delegation had requested the meeting, said Palestinians could not be the exception to the international commitment to protect civilians from atrocities. Let us be clear here, what happened today was a peaceful demonstration to express their desire for their legitimate rights. These were defenceless people, he said. Today’s incident could not be separated from the overall context in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he added, noting that some of the demonstrators were refugees negatively impacted by the cut in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Meanwhile, the United States’ delegate urged those involved to take steps to lower tensions and reduce the risk of new clashes. Bad actors who use protests as a cover to incite violence endanger innocent lives, he said. His Government was focused on taking concrete, near-term steps to improve the humanitarian and economic conditions in Gaza, and hard at work on a peace plan that would provide a brighter future for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Several delegates pointed out other challenges, with many urging the Council to remain seized of the matter. The representative of France raised concerns about the general lack of a political process, emphasizing the importance of ensuring the return of authorities to Gaza, the lifting of the blockade and security guarantees for Israel. Kazakhstan’s delegate called on both sides of the conflict to exercise restraint, highlighting that parties must also find a long-term solution to the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The representative of Bolivia said the exacerbation of tensions in Gaza was the result of 70 years of conflict and 50 years of occupation, underlining that negotiation was the only way to achieve a two-State solution. Agreeing, Ethiopia’s delegate said that, unless the peace process advanced, the tragedy at hand would only happen again.

The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, after condemning the civilian deaths, called on the Council to swiftly uphold its Charter duties and the integrity and authority of its resolutions in light of the violations and provocations against the rights and legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinian people. He also called on the international community, including the Security Council, to act now to provide protection to the Palestinian people to avert bloodshed and diffuse the current volatile situation.

Also speaking today were representatives of Russian Federation, CAte d’Ivoire, United Kingdom, Sweden, Equatorial Guinea, Peru, China, Poland and the Netherlands.

The meeting began at 7:42 p.m. and ended at 8:48 p.m.

Briefing

TAYA�-BROOK ZERIHOUN, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said the great return march near the Gaza fence had resulted in violence and, based on the information at his disposal, some 30,000 people had participated in and around the march at various locations in Gaza. Soon after the demonstrations started, the situation had deteriorated in several locations. Late afternoon local time, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza had confirmed that more than 15 Palestinians had been killed and more than 1,000 had been injured. Some had suffocated after being exposed to tear gas. Several deaths were reportedly due to live ammunition used by Israeli security forces during the march and after armed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, including the shelling of a Hamas observation point.

Reports indicated that most of the demonstrators had stayed well away from the Gaza border fence and had not engaged in violence, he said. However, there were also reports that some protestors had thrown stones and engaged in violent behaviour and some had reportedly carrying weapons. According to Israeli security forces reports, militants had tried to pass through the border fence in an attempt to plant explosives. Palestinians had also reportedly sent a 9-year-old girl through the fence, but Israeli forces had sent her back safely. Hamas representatives had reportedly also been present at some of the gatherings.

Prior to the march, Israel had increased its forces along the border, deploying snipers, special units and drones, and sent out warnings that it would act to prevent any breach of the border fence or violations of Israel’s sovereignty, he said. Violence had also broken out in the West Bank, with an estimated 900 Palestinians demonstrating, mostly in central West Bank cities such as Ramallah and Hebron, he said. According to the Red Crescent, 27 Palestinians had been wounded in clashes near Nablus.

In his briefing to the Council earlier in the week, United Nations Special Coordinator Nikolay Mladenov had noted Palestinian plans were developing for today’s march and had called on all to exercise restraint and to take the necessary steps to avoid violent escalation, he said. In statements to the media, the Special Coordinator had reiterated those calls and emphasized the need to ensure that civilians, particularly children, not be put in harm’s way. The Special Coordinator had also engaged with the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian factions, particularly in Gaza, to reinforce the same messages.

In order to ensure the safety of United Nations personnel, the Department of Safety and Security had issued repeated security advisories to all staff. Throughout the day, the Special Coordinator had been in contact with both Palestinian and Israeli security forces and would continue to do so as more demonstrations were expected throughout the next six weeks. There is fear the situation might deteriorate in the coming days. We will continue to underline that civilians, in particular children, not be targeted and that all actors refrain from putting children at risk, he said.

Israel must uphold its responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law, he said, stressing that lethal force should only be used as a last resort and resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities. The United Nations would continue to urge Israeli security forces to exercise maximum restraint to avoid casualties.

The developments in Gaza today are again a painful reminder of the consequences of a missing peace between Israel and Palestine and the need to step up our efforts in support of a peaceful resolution of the conflict, he said, strongly urging Palestinians, Israelis and the international community to take concrete measures to reverse the current course of the conflict and advance the goal of a just and sustainable peace based on the two-State solution.

Statements

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said that today, the world had seen the extent to which the Israeli State was arrogant and unjust. Israel’s illegitimate expansionist activities continued in flagrant violation of Council resolution 2334 (2016). He firmly condemned Israel’s practices. Let us be clear here, what happened today was a peaceful demonstration to express their desire for their legitimate rights. These were defenceless people, he said, stressing that the perpetrators of the attacks against the Palestinians must be brought to justice. Palestine could not be the exception to the international commitment to protect civilians from atrocities and grave violations. It was very important to not separate today’s incident from the overall context in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said, noting that some of today’s participants in the demonstrations were refugees negatively impacted by the decrease in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In the absence on an adequate response, more incidents would occur. Israel must respect and implement Council resolutions.

WALTER MILLER (United States) regretted that Israel was not able to participate in the meeting due to the Passover holiday. It was vital that the Council be balanced in its approach to all matters before it and an arrangement should have been found allowing for all parties to participate. The United States was deeply saddened by the loss of life in Gaza and urged those involved to take steps to lower tensions and reduce the risk of new clashes. Bad actors who use protests as a cover to incite violence endanger innocent lives, he said. The United States was focused on taking concrete, near-term steps to improve the humanitarian and economic conditions in Gaza. It was hard at work on a peace plan that would provide a brighter future for both Palestinians and Israelis. Violence furthered neither of those goals.

VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) urged both sides to demonstrate restraint and ensure the protection of civilians. Diplomatic efforts must be strengthened to de-escalate tensions. The Russian Federation would work with regional partners to consolidate Palestinian parties. That was a precondition for the economic recovery of Gaza and to realize the aspiration of the Palestinian people. Negotiations must advance towards the two-State solution, he said, reiterating that the Russian Federation would continue to offer space for both parties to meet. It was critically important to support UNRWA.

THA�ODORE DAH (CAte d’Ivoire) condemned acts of violence and called on both parties to exercise restraint. Only dialogue and political compromise would allow for a peaceful solution to the conflict in the region.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) regretted that Israeli colleagues were unable to participate in the meeting. His delegation was appalled by the deaths and injuries suffered during the incident in Gaza. There must be an immediate end to the violence and we call for calm and restraint, he said, adding that all parties must engage constructively to bring an end to the violence. An urgent and durable agreement was needed to address the underlying causes of the conflict. The United Kingdom remained committed to supporting vulnerable Gazans, including through UNRWA, and encouraged all parties to work towards a durable solution. A renewed commitment for negotiations towards a two-State solution was needed.

CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) said he was appalled by the loss of life, including Palestinian children. The events must be immediately and properly investigated by the authorities. The use of force must always be proportional and lethal force must always be used as a last resort. Israel must uphold international human rights law and the right to peaceful protest. He expressed concern over the airstrikes carried out in Gaza, saying the situation was extremely worrisome. Our focus must now be on avoiding further escalation on the ground, he said. All parties, particularly the Israeli security forces, must exercise maximum restraint. The terrible humanitarian situation in Gaza was on the verge of collapse, he said, stressing that a sustainable solution must be urgently sought, including an end to the Israeli closure policy. Gaza was integral to Palestine and could not be separated from the much broader context.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) deplored the loss of human life. He reiterated his delegation’s recent call on both parties to refrain from engaging in acts of violence. Violence must come to an immediate end. He condemned the attempted assassination of the Palestinian Prime Minister. He repeated his appeal to the parties to set aside their differences and pursue the path of dialogue to find a solution to their differences. Intra-Palestinian dialogue must also proceed, he said, calling on the international community to promote dialogue and to do all it could to prevent violence and expressing support for Kuwait’s proposal that the Council issue a robust communique calling upon Israelis and Palestinians to immediately halt the violence.

ANTOINE IGNACE MICHON (France) raised concerns about the attacks in Gaza and the general lack of a political process. It was important to ensure the return of authorities to Gaza, the lifting of the blockade and security guarantees for Israel. The two-State solution was the key, as was the rapid renewal of negotiations. The Council must remain seized of the matter and speak in support of civilian protection.

KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) called on both sides of the conflict to exercise restraint, for a full investigation into the incident and for those responsible to be held accountable. Parties must also find a solution to the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDA�N (Bolivia) said the exacerbation of tensions in Gaza was the result of 70 years of conflict and 50 years of occupation. Moving the United States Embassy to Jerusalem would only further stoke the flames of violence. Negotiation was the only way to achieve a two-State solution.

DAWIT YIRGA WOLDEGERIMA (Ethiopia) said that, unless the peace process advanced, the tragedy at hand would only happen again. All parties must exercise self-restraint and the Council must follow the matter closely.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) condemned any attempt by terrorist groups to attack Israel, which had a right to protect itself. Raising concerns about a risk of escalating tensions, he said the United Nations and those countries with influence in the region must take further action to prevent civilian deaths and injuries.

LIE CHENG (China) said all parties should remain calm and meet each other half way. The question of Palestine was the root of peace in the Middle East and the Council must play its role. United Nations resolutions must be respected and efforts to implement them must be bolstered.

PAWEL RADOMSKI (Poland) emphasized that any use of force must be proportional. He also condemned all acts of terrorism and violence, which played a significant role in the escalation of tensions. Calling on all parties to take action, he said efforts must first be made to ensure calm.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), Council President for March, spoke in his national capacity, noting that the representative of Israel could not attend the meeting because of the Passover holiday. He called on all sides to exercise restraint, on Palestine to ensure protests remained peaceful and on Israel to take proportionate action. Israel’s security concerns were real. In that vein, he called on all parties to respect international humanitarian law. A comprehensive approach was needed to advance efforts to proceed with reconciliation, with a view to realize the two-State solution.

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, called for an immediate end to the massacre and for bringing the perpetrators to justice. The Council must take a stance and condemn the massacre while providing protection for the Palestinian people. He said he came before the Council with a sense of repugnance and urgency. Today, 17 Palestinians had been killed and more than 1,400 injured in Gaza, many of them seriously. The majority of those killed had been participating in a peaceful demonstration marking the forty-second anniversary of Land Day, when six Palestinians had been killed while protesting against Israel’s illegal expropriation of Palestinian land, he said. He read the names of those killed today, as well as a Gaza farmer who had also been killed by Israeli artillery fire on his land near Khan Younis, just hours ahead of the peaceful demonstrations. There is nothing more repulsive than a massacre of unarmed defenceless people, including women and children, he said.

Today’s demonstration had been meant to begin six weeks of peaceful protests leading up to the commemoration of Al-Nakba, marking 70 years of the expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians from their homes and lands. Today’s vicious attacks by Israel against disarmed and unprotected Palestinian civilians were premeditated and deliberate, he said. Israeli officials had been preparing for them with provocative, violent rhetoric, which had led Amnesty International to issue a warning on Thursday to the Israeli occupying forces to refrain from using excessive force. In addition to snipers, the Israeli officials had used live ammunition against unarmed civilians, unleashing attack dogs and occupying forces.

We call on the Council to swiftly uphold its Charter duties and the integrity and authority of its resolutions in light of the violations and provocations against the rights and legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinian people, he said. The international community must condemn unequivocally Israel’s criminal and illegal actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel must be held fully accountable for its crimes. He also called on the international community, including the Security Council, to act now to provide protection to the Palestinian people to avert bloodshed and diffuse the current volatile situation.

Source: United Nations

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