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 meeting of the Security Council on the situation in Gaza with a focus on the protection of civilians, especially women and children. We thank Executive Director of UN-Women Sima Bahous, Executive Director of UNICEF Catherine Russell, and Executive Director of UNFPA Natalia Kanem for the briefings on the situation in the Palestinian enclave.
Since the beginning of October, an increasingly dramatic situation has been unfolding in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict zone. There is no justification to the killings and violence to which Israeli civilians have been subjected. Any terrorist attacks against civilians, including hostage-taking, deserve to be condemned in strongest terms.
However, Israel's punitive action against the Gaza Strip that came afterwards, including the ground operation, has resulted in unprecedented bloodshed in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), especially in Gaza, where a real humanitarian disaster has erupted.
Today, we heard new statistics that illustrate the scope of calamity. The number of Palestinians killed in less than two months (14,000, half of them children) is staggering. The unprecedented number of IDPs since 1948 (1.6 million people) is also appalling. In short, worst-case scenarios are coming true that predicted scourges of literally biblical proportions, which is exactly what Palestinians are exposed to now. And with all this, Israel is depriving the international community, including Russia, of the opportunity to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance to Gaza.
The Strip has been cut off from a steady and sufficient supply of water, food, medicine and fuel, which Israel let in on a limited basis only a month into the blockade.
This is totally unacceptable, i.a. in terms of respect for women’s rights and implementation of many UN Security Council resolutions, including, in particular, resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. Israel has an obligation to take measures to comply with these instruments, especially since it has incorporated resolution 1325 into its national legislation and claims to be committed to this topic.
Mass deaths and injuries of children at the hands of the Israeli army during its operations, as well as the attacks on schools and hospitals that kill innocent people, raise grave concern.
Other civilian facilities also come under fire. That includes mosques, churches, refugee camps, United Nations facilities where the women and children of Gaza seek refuge from the shelling. That is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. We have heard allegations that Hamas command posts and bunkers be located there, but we have not seen any convincing evidence of that.
We emphasize that denial of humanitarian access to the affected children is unacceptable. It is an absolute priority in the appalling conditions in Gaza. More children have died in Gaza in one month than in all conflicts over the past few years. Every day, dozens if not hundreds of children are killed and maimed there. Three children have died in an Israeli shelling in southern Lebanon.
This is about the right to life of Palestinian children. Our common goal is to save those lives. It has been almost three weeks since the Secretary-General's said his sobering words that Gaza had become a graveyard for children, but children continue to die. We ask the Secretary-General and his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to keep the situation in Gaza under scrutiny and to keep the UNSC updated of the measures taken.
We are also concerned over the violations by West Jerusalem and Western States of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly of those people who disapprove of Israel’s actions, and also over the persecution of human rights activists. We believe that against this backdrop, the Security Council should make it a rule to invite representatives of Palestinian civil society, including women, to its meetings in order to obtain first-hand information on the situation in the occupied territories.
All that the UN Security Council managed to do about this absolutely unacceptable situation was to adopt on November 15 resolution 2712 submitted by Malta on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, focusing on the consequences of the armed conflict specifically for children.
Unfortunately, the resolution turned out severely eviscerated and does not contain a demand for a ceasefire, nor does it provide for practical measures to ensure broad and unhindered access to those in need and assistance to the injured. In this connection, Russia abstained in the voting on the draft, yielding, among other things, to the requests of the Palestinians and Arab countries to not prevent the UN Security Council from adopting (for the first time since 2016) a "product" on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This being said, the resolution leaves behind Israel's forceful raids in the West Bank and arbitrary air raids on Syria, as well as the growing tension on the Blue Line with Lebanon, fraught with further expansion of the crisis in the Middle East.
The absolute moral and humanitarian imperative to cease hostilities has been reduced to a zero-address call for some kind of a pause without relevant Israeli obligations under international humanitarian law or monitoring and implementation mechanisms. There is no doubt that no humanitarian pause can change the current unacceptable situation. There is a need for an early ceasefire in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict zone. That is the only way to avoid new casualties and ensure that the much-needed humanitarian assistance is provided to those in need, especially children.
Unfortunately, representatives of the Israeli leadership took full advantage of the US-induced rift in the Security Council and did not hesitate to call the adopted resolution meaningless, declaring their intention to ignore it and continue the cleansing of the Gaza Strip.
Colleagues, there is a question in the air. How long is UNSC going to tolerate such an attitude to its decisions, which runs counter to Article 25 of the UN Charter? It is in no way possible to let resolution 2712 remain only "on paper". Since we adopted it, it is important that the UN Secretary-General provide the Security Council with answers to the resolution’s proposals, in particular with regard to its monitoring mechanism.
Immediately after the adoption of Security Council resolution 2712, the Israeli Air Force attacked the UNRWA schools Al-Fakhura and Tel az-Zaatar, as well as the Al-Shifa and Al-Ahli hospital compounds. According to UNRWA Commissioner-General P.Lazzarini, amidst massive bomb strikes (200 per day), there are no safe places left for the civilian population in Gaza, and even UN facilities that fly blue flags become military targets, although West Jerusalem is aware of their geographical coordinates. The United Nations rightly calls such actions "flagrant violations of international humanitarian law and a total disregard for humanity".
Israeli leadership cynically refers to Palestinian casualties as inevitable "collateral damage," and is ready to consider occasional pauses only through the lens of the interests of Israel's military operation.
Yesterday, we learned of the agreement between Israel and Hamas regarding a four-day pause and the exchange of some of the hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian women and children in Israeli prisons. One must realize that it was not the adoption of resolution 2712 but the effective mediation efforts of Qatar and Egypt in contacts with the Hamas leadership that made it possible to reach these important agreements, on which implementation the fates of many people depend. We hope that this agreement will be strictly observed by all parties, will contribute to further development of relevant contacts in order to resolve acute humanitarian issues, and will be an important step towards the overall de-escalation of the situation. For our part, we intend to contribute to that in every possible way, in close coordination with regional partners.
We all realize that while trying to resolve the current outbreak of Palestinian-Israeli violence, however serious it is, we must not lose sight of finding a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian problem. We look forward to a focused discussion of this issue at the Council's meeting on 29 November.