Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at UNSC briefing on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question
We thank USG Griffiths and ASG Brands-Kehris for their objective assessments of the catastrophic situation in Gaza.
Russia supported Algeria's initiative to convene today's urgent meeting of the Council on the situation in the zone of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with a focus on the threat of forced displacement of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, in light of the illegality of such steps by West Jerusalem in the terms of international law. And that is only part of the deadly "puzzle" that assembles into the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.
As of now, more than 23,000 people have been killed in the enclave. That includes, by preliminary data, more than 7,500. Thousands of people are missing under the rubble of destroyed buildings. Given the frequency and magnitude of the strikes on residential areas, dozens (if not hundreds) of Gazans are killed and maimed in Gaza every day.
Civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities, has been destroyed almost completely. The total blockade of Gaza has led to acute shortages of water, fuel and medical supplies.
Since the beginning of the escalation, some 2 million people have already been displaced. Half of them are women and children. Most of the IDPs have taken refuge in UNRWA facilities, which, despite their status, continue to suffer from Israeli bombardment. These people have lost their homes, property, livelihoods, many are on the verge of imminent starvation.
The dire humanitarian situation in Gaza demonstrates how disastrous a path that ignores international law can be. The attack of October 7 is certainly reprehensible. At the same time, the events in question cannot be used to legitimize Israel's use of force in the Gaza Strip. All the more so in such forms, which in fact turn into collective punishment of the Palestinians, involving numerous grave violations of international law.
Moreover, the events of 7 October should not be seen in isolation from the long and blood-stained history of the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation, which spans several decades of oppression, occupation and numerous crimes against the Palestinian people.
Against this background, the UNSC, as the main body for the maintenance of international peace and security, is still unable to fulfill its direct mandate and adopt a resolution containing an irrevocable demand to the parties for an immediate ceasefire. It is regrettable that Security Council resolution 2712 does not include this key call due to the opposition of one delegation, the United States, so its practical value approaches a zero. UNSC resolution 2720 (on which we abstained only thanks to the requests of Arab states), under pressure from Washington, was packed full of dubious language about "creating conditions for a ceasefire". I would like to emphasize once again that we strongly disagree with the content of the current OP2 and proceed from the premise that responsibility for all possible consequences will fall on those States that gave their consent to this language, which was pushed through by the United States.
Together with the unstopping indiscriminate bombardment and targeting of civilian objects with a view to causing terror and panic among the civilian population, a coherent strategy of West Jerusalem is emerging. Its goal is to forcibly displace Palestinians, and its logic is simple - to make life in Gaza unbearable, even impossible, leaving the civilian population with the unimaginable choice – either leave your homeland or get killed.
The continued forcible expulsion of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is bound to shake the entire Middle East and North Africa region, with repercussions for the entire world.
The UN Secretariat, led by the Secretary-General, and an overwhelming number of UN member states have sounded alarm condemning such plans by the Israeli leadership and are united in their commitment to take decisive action to prevent such a mass forced deportation of Palestinians from their land.
As the occupying power, the Israeli side is bound by international humanitarian law, in particular Article 49 of the IV Geneva Convention (1949), which explicitly prohibits deportation and forced displacement of populations.
Under articles 23 and 59 of the same Convention, the occupying power also has special obligations to provide basic necessity items for the civilian population. Against this backdrop and amidst the dire humanitarian situation, Israel's plans to flood the tunnels in Gaza with seawater (according to various estimates, 1,300 corridors with a total length of 500 km are to be filled with 1.5 million cubic meters of water) raise extreme concern.
Let me underscore that consequences of contaminating groundwater - the only source of fresh water for the people of Gaza - would last for centuries. If implemented, such plans would trigger a massive environmental disaster and besides, render the enclave virtually uninhabitable. Such actions may qualify as an element of genocide under Article 2(c) of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
South Africa, Bangladesh, Bolivia, the Comoros, Djibouti, Brazil and Bolivia have already filed collective complaints against Israel with the International Court of Justice. This is in addition to the upcoming hearings in The Hague in the second half of February on the legal implications of the construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
This being said, such corrupt institutions as the International Criminal Court (ICC) will hardly give a proper assessment to what is happening. We have no illusions about that, and do not even expect that the British prosecutor of the ICC, Mr.Karim Khan, will find the courage to go against his Western masters and their allies, whose political interests the ICC is serving. We have seen similar idleness by the ICC with regard to war crimes by the US, UK and their satellites in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The investigation that never started was simply "de-prioritized". With regard to Israel, the head of the ICC is behaving in a similar manner, limiting himself to incoherent excuses and references to previous calls to stop the violence.
Against this depressing backdrop, there are noteworthy media reports about the ideas of the Israeli leadership to persuade Arab, African and European countries to accept Palestinian refugees and the Arabian monarchies to sponsor such movement of populations. The very fact of such "leaks", coupled with the provocative statements by the Israeli establishment, provoke additional tension and undermine the universally recognized international legal basis for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, the consistent erosion of which by Washington has led to the current explosion.
Under the current circumstances, Russia's principled approaches remain unchanged - an immediate ceasefire, unimpeded & safe humanitarian access, release of hostages and the restoration of the political horizon on the basis of the two-state solution for the Middle East settlement.
The escalation in Gaza has been on for 100 days now and shows no sign of abating. Moreover, the United States and its allies contribute to the spillover of the conflict and its spread to the entire region having attacked the people of Yemen in violation of Article 2 of the UN Charter. The Council will discuss this egregious situation in detail later today in a separate briefing. Apparently, this is the "effective bilateral diplomacy" (or, simply put, arbitrariness) that our American colleagues talk about when they say it works better than multilateral efforts.
All this leads to the main conclusion: without an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the Middle East risks plunging into a full-scale war with the most serious global implications. The UN Security Council must revisit this issue as soon as possible.