Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at UNSC briefing on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question
We thank Martin Griffiths for objective assessments of the dire situation in Gaza.
Russia supported Algeria's initiative to convene this briefing on the situation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict zone.
The conflict has been going on for almost four months now. The colossal figures of loss and destruction speak for themselves – more than 26,000 people, including women and children, have become victims of indiscriminate bombardment and use of armed force. At least 65,000 people have been injured. 80 % of the entire population of Gaza have been internally displaced.
Due to the lack of unimpeded humanitarian access to the north and south of the enclave, especially to Khan Younis (where the Israeli military has been besieging Al-Amal Hospital for eight days straight), and the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure (reportedly up to 50 %) Gaza faces equally deadly risks of famine and infectious disease epidemics. UN leaders at all levels are unanimous in their support for an urgent and widespread ceasefire as a prerequisite for rendering humanitarian assistance on proper scale.
For our part, we have consistently and unwaveringly advocated an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. In the first place, we mean Gaza. However the forceful raids by the Israeli Armed Forces in the West Bank (suffice it to mention the viral footage of the raid in a hospital in Jenin), along with the shelling at the Blue Line with Lebanon and arbitrary strikes against Syrian territory must stop immediately. After all, without a cessation of hostilities, there can be no meaningful humanitarian access to all those in need, no release of all hostages and no recovery of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement process on an internationally recognized basis. We have repeatedly stated publicly that the attack against Israel on 7 October, in which Israeli civilians were killed, must be condemned in strongest terms, but it cannot and must not become an excuse for the collective punishment of millions of Palestinians and for actions that risk destabilizing the entire Middle East region.
Against this tragic humanitarian backdrop, we note the high-impact decision of a number of Western donors, led by the United States, to suspend funding to UNRWA in connection with the suspected involvement of its staff in the October 7 attack.
In that context, we share the position of senior UN officials that there needs to be a thorough and transparent investigation into those allegations. It is important that not only information from Israel but also information from Palestinians be taken into account. However, this situation should not become an excuse to collectively punish the millions of Palestinians in need and the thousands of UNRWA staff who have faithfully performed and carried out their duties for 75 years. Suspicions against the 12 UNRWA staff members cannot and should not be used to discredit the entire structure of the Agency and undermine its key and indispensable work of supporting nearly 6 million Palestinians in the oPt and neighboring Arab countries. UNRWA management has stated that with the suspension of funding from key donors (a decision, the motifs of which raise numerous questions on our part), the Agency, which is already chronically underfunded, will not be able to operate in the Gaza Strip and the region as a whole after February this year. This must not be allowed to happen.
In the current circumstances, the provocative rhetoric of some representatives of Israel’s leadership, who call not only for the continuation of the military operation in the Gaza Strip, but also for the elimination of the UNRWA presence in the enclave and forced displacement of Palestinians from their places of permanent residence, is particularly alarming. Such a scenario must not be realized under any circumstances. The violence by the Israeli army and Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which becomes widely spread, must also be stopped immediately.
It is regrettable that in these circumstances the UN Security Council has so far failed to adopt a single product demanding an end to the violence because of the position of one delegation - the United States, which blocks all efforts and initiatives aimed at putting an end to the bloodshed in the occupied territories and gives Israel carte blanche to proceed with the collective punishment of the Palestinians.
Helplessness of this Council and its inability to take comprehensive collective action means that the current round of violence in the oPt triggers an expansion of the geography of the conflict to the entire region. The aggressive actions of our colleagues on UNSC (I mean the United States and the United Kingdom) in the Red Sea remind us of the worst times of the barbaric and illegal NATO bombings of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. In the meantime, they shamelessly exploit counter-terrorism narrative and the so-called "right to self-defense". We categorically condemn the aggression against Yemen, which was not authorized by the United Nations Security Council. We once again emphasize that the unlawful and provocative actions of Washington and London pose a direct threat to international peace and security and undermine the world order based on the rule of international law and the central role of the United Nations.
This being said, we note the active position of the overwhelming majority of the international community, who are not willing to remain silent while Israelis cleanse the territory of Gaza under the cover of the United States of America. On January 26, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling on "provisional measures" and ordered Israel (i.a. as an occupying power) to comply with the obligations that were already incumbent on that country by virtue of international law.
Russia’s general approach to the current round of the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation remains unchanged. Our key demand is an immediate ceasefire as a necessary measure to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access to all those in need and the unconditional release of all hostages. Furthermore, it is clear to us that the spiral of violence in Gaza and the West Bank will keep winding until the underlying injustices of many years of conflict are addressed and the Palestinian people implement a right granted to them by UNSC and GA decisions to establish an independent state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Only such a balanced approach based on international law can lead to sustainable peace.
Russia will continue to do its utmost to contribute to stabilization in the Middle East and to advance the Middle East settlement process together with the countries of the region and in coordination with other conscious mediators. As before, we are open to discussing relevant initiatives within the collective UN framework.