Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at UNSC briefing on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question
We fully support the convening of this urgent meeting on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip by the delegation of the UAE. We thank WHO Director General T.Adhanom and Director General of the Palestinian Red Crescent M.Jilani for the briefings on the situation in the Palestinian enclave. We appreciate the dedicated work of WHO representatives and all humanitarians on the ground who have to operate amidst very dangerous circumstances.
The reports about the disastrous scale of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is deeply shocking.
A real humanitarian catastrophe, a tragedy of global proportions, is unfolding in the Palestinian enclave. Israeli air strikes have completely destroyed or damaged almost half of the homes and vital civilian infrastructure. Four Palestinian hospitals have been bombed in the past 24 hours. 18 out of 35 hospitals in the Strip have completely suspended operations, 35,000 buildings were destroyed and 165,000 more damaged. The list of destroyed (or damaged) buildings includes 221 schools, 42 UNRWA facilities, 7 churches and 56 mosques. UNRWA management reports that 101 employees of the Agency have already become victims of the bombing.
We are shocked and deeply appalled by the fact that civilian objects - schools, hospitals, mosques and refugee camps - are being targeted. We emphasize that targeted strikes against civilian objects are a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. Compliance with international humanitarian law is an imperative. Any war has rules, and any violent actions against civilians, strikes on residential buildings and civilian infrastructure are strongly unacceptable. According to available reports, just this morning, the Al-Quds and Al-Shifa hospitals, as well as the Khaleda Bin Al-Walid and Al-Ikhlas mosques, were hit. These mosques are located in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, which confirms that Gaza today has no zones that are safe for civilians.
Gaza Strip is subjected to a brutal all-out blockade, where the civilian population suffers the most. There is an acute shortage of medicine, food and fuel. Hospitals are running out of space. The shortage of clean water threatens to worsen the sanitary and epidemiological situation dramatically.
Many states and organizations send help to the residents of the besieged enclave. The Russian Federation also provides humanitarian support to the population of Gaza. Today, on November 10, the EMERCOM of Russia announced the fourth planeload of 25 tonnes of food and medicines to be sent by air to Egypt.
Yet, as we heard today from Dr. Tedros Adhanom and Mr.Marwan Jilani, despite the passage of humanitarian convoys into the northern part of Gaza, this is clearly "not enough to meet the enormous needs of the Gaza Strip". Unless drastic steps are taken to de-escalate the conflict, its implications will be there for an unknown length of time.
The tragic events in Gaza somehow overshadowed the volatile situation in the West Bank which has been undeservedly forgotten. Meanwhile, since October 7, all major cities in the West Bank have witnessed a sharp escalation of violence as a result of operations by Israeli security forces and violent actions by settlers against the Palestinian population. Regardless of what is happening in the Gaza Strip, the situation in the West Bank itself deserves close attention of this Council.
148 Palestinians were killed in clashes with IDF units last month (compared to 155 in all of 2022, according to UN data). More than 2,200 were injured, and more than 2,000 more were detained. The IDF also practices collective punishments, the most frequent of which is a complete blockade of settlements by closing all roads leading to it "for security reasons". Palestinian population's access to many major transportation routes in the West Bank is currently blocked, causing significant damage to the local economy.
Systematic demolitions of Palestinian homes "without Israeli building permits," which are almost impossible for local Palestinians to obtain, continue.
According to OCHA, since the beginning of the escalation, humanitarian workers have recorded numerous acts of violence by Israeli settlers on a daily basis. Besides, during October this year, nearly 2,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their homes due to settler threats. Relatively isolated Bedouin communities are the easiest and most frequent targets. Appeals to the Israeli police and army are predictably fruitless: on the contrary, security forces often provide direct support to settlers during illegal actions, or at the very least do not intervene. We also note acts of violence against Israelis and human rights defenders, who are not afraid to call the developments in Gaza by its proper name.
We once again emphasize the inadmissibility and danger of escalating this conflict. We are convinced that an urgent ceasefire in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict zone would become the first step in the right direction. Only that (and not some short-term pauses!) is the only realistic measure that would make it possible to avoid further casualties, ensure provision of the necessary humanitarian aid to those in need and assistance to the population of Gaza, and preclude further escalation of the armed confrontation and involvement in it of more regional actors.
It is obvious that in a part of the globe with a huge number of historically unresolved issues, conflict potential and implicit risks, regional and global confrontation are a possibility. But the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the key issue without the resolution of which there can be no hope for lasting peace in the Middle East. Over the past few years, we have been saying (and that includes monthly Security Council meetings on MEPQ) that forgetting the entire international legal framework for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will lead to an escalation and then the whole world will have to try to resolve it.
The solution to the Palestinian question should in no way be linked to attempts to expel Palestinians from their ancestral homes. We need a real, profound, fundamental solution to this long-standing historical problem that should rest upon provisions of international law.
As history has amply demonstrated, attempts to "monopolize" mediation functions do not help to resolve, but rather exacerbate conflicts. That is what we are witnessing right now.
The fact that Washington has blocked initiatives for a ceasefire in Gaza at this stage and the US lopsided policy over the past years aimed at preserving (as they put it) the status quo and doing so-called "quiet diplomacy" was in fact an unwillingness to implement everything that countries and peoples had agreed upon. The lack of any progress on the negotiation track could not but lead to radicalization and an outburst. Let me say again that this, in its turn, may expand the geography of the conflict and fuel other potential or dormant conflicts in the region. We said repeatedly that the build-up of foreign military presence in the armed conflict zone, in particular the US presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and provocative bellicose narrative are also part of the global escalation, which can only exacerbate the situation.
We are convinced that without a solution to the Palestinian problem on a well-known international legal basis, long-term stabilization in the Middle East region is out of the question. Nor will Israel be safer. Today, it is more important than ever to immediately stop the bloodshed and avoid unilateral actions, including the settler takeover of areas of the West Bank, the trampling of Jerusalem's Holy Sites and incitement to violence and terrorism. Inter-Palestinian unity seems particularly necessary under the current circumstances. We also fully support the growing calls for collective action by influential international players.
We also emphasize the central role of states of the Middle East in resolving the problems of the region. External forces should not be allowed to exploit the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation to break the recent positive trends towards normalization in the Middle East region. The engagement and unity of Middle East states and all stakeholders around the international UNSC-endorsed legal basis for a settlement, coupled with the political will of the Palestinians and Israelis to negotiate on a range of final status issues, is a key prerequisite for restarting a comprehensive peace process in the Middle East.