Only a political solution will end the “senseless and costly cycles of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians, UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland said in a briefing to the Security Council on Thursday.
Ambassadors met in person in New York as a fragile cessation of hostilities continues to hold, following 11 days of deadly conflict this month which engulfed the Occupied Palestinian Territory and several cities across Israel.
“These recent events have made clear once again the costs of perpetual conflict and lost hope”, said Mr Wennesland, officially the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.
He spoke via teleconference from Jerusalem, and shortly after the UN and partners announced a $95 million flash appeal to support people in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Political and humanitarian response
Mr Wennesland stressed the need for the sides to return to the negotiating table, though warning against a “business as usual” approach.
“At the end, it is the lack of the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ – of a political horizon – after decades of conflict, that kills hope and provides space for those not interested in sustainable peace. ”, he said.
“Only through negotiations that end the occupation and create a viable two-State solution, on the basis of UN resolutions, international law and mutual agreements, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States, can we hope to bring a definitive end to these senseless and costly cycles of violence.”
‘Hell on Earth’
The latest conflict between Israel and armed groups in Gaza was among the most intense hostilities witnessed in years.
Mr Wennesland reported that Hamas and other militants fired more than 4,000 rockets from Gaza, a significant number of which were intercepted by Israel’s air defense system, Iron Dome, while Israel carried out over 1,500 strikes against what it said were militant targets.
The UN estimates more than 250 Palestinians were killed, including whole families, with 66 children among the victims. In Israel, 13 people were killed: nine civilians, two of them children, as well as three foreigners and a soldier.
Relentless airstrikes forced some 70,000 people in Gaza to seek refuge in schools run by the UN agency which assists the Palestinian people, UNRWA.
Staff who ventured out daily amid the fighting to help them described the period as “hell on earth”, said UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini, speaking from its headquarters in East Jerusalem.
Strengthen UN agency
Mr. Lazzarini was in Gaza earlier this week. He said practically everyone he met reported feeling terrified and traumatized.
“I met parents who, every night, asked themselves whether to have all their children sleep near them or to spread them around the house”, he said. “Should they all die together? Or should they try to save some by scattering them?”
Mr. Lazzarini stated that until there is a political solution to the conflict, only a strong UNRWA can bring “a sense of normality” into the lives of Palestinians. He underscored the need for reliable and sufficient funding for its work in delivering essential services, such as education.
The UN and partners said at least 57 schools, nine hospitals and 19 primary health care centres were either partially or completely damaged in the fighting, which occurred as Gaza’s embattled health system was dealing with the burden of COVID-19.
Building back Gaza
The $95 million appeal, launched in Jerusalem on Thursday, targets one million people over the next three months, in the areas of protection, health, water and sanitation, education and food security.
Speaking to journalists in New York, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Lynn Hastings, noted that while buildings can be repaired, the concern is over how repeated conflicts impact the psycho-social well-being of Gazans, particularly children.
“But while the immediate needs on the ground have been outlined in the flash appeal launched today…all of us need to ensure that we are not repeating the mistakes that keep bringing us back to having to rebuild Gaza”, she said