UN Chief calls for immediate Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire


UN Chief calls for immediate Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire
FILE PHOTO: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres takes part in a news conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Sunday for an “immediate cease-fire” among Israelis and Palestinians, after a week of fighting killed at least 180 Palestinians and eight Israelis.

“Fighting must stop. It must stop immediately,” Guterres told an emergency meeting of the Security Council held online. “Rockets and mortars on one side and aerial and artillery bombardments on the other must stop. I appeal to all parties to heed this call.”

He said the U.N. is actively working with all sides toward reaching an immediate cease-fire to end the “senseless cycle of bloodshed, terror and destruction.”

“All parties must respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” the U.N. chief said. “The status quo at the holy sites must be upheld and respected.”

UNICEF said Sunday that over the past week, at least 55 Palestinian children and two children in Israel were among those killed.

China, Norway and Tunisia called the rare Sunday meeting of the Security Council. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi chaired the session as council president this month. The foreign ministers of Tunisia and Norway addressed council members as did their counterparts from Jordan and Egypt.

U.S. envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Washington is working tirelessly through diplomatic channels to bring an end to the current escalation.

She said President Joe Biden spoke with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has engaged with regional leaders in addition to Israeli and Palestinian officials.

“In all of these engagements with Israeli officials and Palestinian Authority and all regional partners, the United States has made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices should the parties seek a cease-fire,” Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said.

Other council members called for an immediate end to the fighting and for all parties to refrain from any unilateral steps that undermine the viability of the two-state solution.

But the two main parties showed no sign of easing tensions.

“Is violence when committed by Palestinians terrorism, and when committed by Israel self-defense?” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Malki asked.

Al Malki warned that the security council’s silence has encouraged Israeli aggression. He accused the military of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against Palestinian civilians.

“How many Palestinian civilians killed is enough for a condemnation?” Al Malki asked the council, which has so far issued no unified statement on the situation due to U.S. objections on its wording. “What is the threshold for outrage? An entire family wiped out of existence is not enough? Dozens of families killed is not enough?”

Israel’s U.N. envoy Gilad Erdan blamed Hamas for provoking the current conflict, as part of a power grab in the West Bank after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas postponed elections, denying them the opportunity to win power there.

Erdan said Israel’s efforts to destroy Hamas are “heroic” and that it takes “unparalleled steps” to prevent civilian casualties. He warned council members that if they condemn both Israel and Hamas they are drawing an unfair moral equivalency between the two which would only serve to strengthen Hamas.

“Israel has already made its choice: we will take all steps necessary to defend our people. Now the choice is yours; the world is watching,” he said.

The recent violence is the biggest battle between Hamas and Israeli forces since the 2014 war in Gaza. It was sparked by growing unrest over control of Jerusalem and attempts by Jewish settlers to take over Arab-controlled communities.

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