UN Mideast envoy denounces settlements as a ‘flagrant violation’ of international law, says the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers ‘remains very fragile’
The United Nations on Thursday accused Israel of flagrantly violating international law by advancing building projects in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and urged its new government to halt such construction immediately.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland reported on the implementation of a 2016 Security Council resolution that declared settlements have “no legal validity.” It demanded a halt to construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Wennesland said in a briefing to the council on Guterres’ 12-page report that he was “deeply troubled” by Israel’s approval of a plan to add 540 housing units to the Har Homa neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, as the capital of a future state. Israel maintains the entire city is its undivided capital.
“I again underscore, in no uncertain terms, that Israeli settlements constitute a flagrant violation of United Nations resolutions and international law,” the UN envoy said. “They are a major obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”
“The advancement of all settlement activity must cease immediately,” Wennesland said.
Both Guterres and Wennesland also called on Israeli authorities to end the demolition of Palestinian homes and other property and the displacement of Palestinians — another flashpoint — “and to approve plans that would enable these communities to build legally and address their development needs.”
The December 2016 resolution, which the United States abstained on in the final weeks of the Obama administration, also called for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians and urged both Israel and the Palestinians to exercise restraint and refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.
It also called on all parties to launch negotiations on final status issues and urged intensified international and regional diplomatic efforts to help end the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and achieve a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side-by-side in peace.
Guterres and Wennesland made clear that more than four years after the resolution’s adoption, none of these appeals have been met.
Wennesland said the period between March and June covered in the report “witnessed an alarming increase in the level of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, including hostilities between Israel and factions in Gaza at a scale and intensity not seen in years.”
He said the cessation of hostilities after last month’s 11-day military conflict in Gaza “remains very fragile,” adding that the United Nations is working closely with Israel, the Palestinians and partners including Egypt “to solidify a ceasefire, allow the entry of urgent humanitarian assistance and stabilize the situation in Gaza.”
Israel has said it won’t tolerate even relatively minor attacks from Gaza — which is ruled by the Hamas terror group — including the launch of incendiary balloons, which triggered Israeli airstrikes last week.
“I urge all sides to refrain from unilateral steps and provocations, take steps to reduce tensions, and allow these efforts to succeed,” Wennesland told the council. “Everyone must do their part to facilitate ongoing discussions to stabilize the situation on the ground and avoid another devastating escalation in Gaza.”
He called on all Palestinian factions “to make serious efforts to ensure the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank under a single, legitimate, democratic, national government,” saying that Gaza must remain part of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.
During the March to June reporting period, Guterres said 295 Palestinians, including 42 women and 73 children, were killed by Israeli security forces and 10,149 were injured during demonstrations, clashes, search-and-arrest operations, airstrikes, shelling and other incidents in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The UN chief said 90 members of the Israeli security forces and 857 Israeli civilians were injured by Palestinians during the same period in clashes, incidents in which stones and firebombs were thrown, the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars and other incidents.
The Gaza war was the worst escalation of hostilities since 2014, with Palestinian terrorists firing more than 4,000 rockets and projectiles toward Israel and Israeli forces carrying out over 1,500 strikes from air, land and sea across the Gaza Strip, Guterres said.
According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, 253 Palestinians were killed during the fighting, including 66 children. Palestinian terror groups in Gaza have said 80 of the total casualties were combatants, while Israel says the true figure is much higher. Thirteen people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, were killed. Israel says dozens of the Gaza fatalities were caused by Hamas rockets that fell short and landed inside the Strip.
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