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Israel-Palestine: Waste no opportunity for ‘serious’ political negotiation, envoy urges

The top UN envoy for the Middle East peace process told the UN Security Council on Monday that three months after the deadly escalation in violence between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip, the situation there remains tense.

Special Coordinator Tor Wennesland, welcomed Qatar’s contribution of $40 million to provide cash assistance to needy families in the Hamas-controlled enclave, but warned of continuing violence across the whole Occupied Palestinian Territory.

He told ambassadors that tensions along the Gaza perimeter fence, reached a peak on 21 August, when hundreds of Palestinians attended a rally, describing the throwing of stones and reportedly, improvised explosive devices, towards Israeli security personnel.

Israeli forces fired on Palestinian protestors, injuring 51 Palestinians, including 25 children. Reiterating that children must never be targeted, Mr. Wennesland called on all sides to show restraint, avoid provocations at the fence and keep the protests peaceful.

Palestinian deaths

Drawing attention to a number of Palestinian deaths in July and August, he highlighted the killing of an 11-year-old Palestinian boy in Beit Ummar on 28 July, after Israeli security forces fired at the car he was travelling in with his father and siblings.

While Israeli authorities have opened an investigation, he added that the next day, security personnel killed a 20-year-old Palestinian man, amid clashes during the boy’s funeral.

Also voicing concern about Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians, he said further measures must be taken to ensure that Israel fulfils its obligation to better protect Palestinian civilians.

He called on Israeli security forces to exercise maximum restraint and use lethal force only when it is strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.

End arrests of rights defenders

Noting that on 21 August, Palestinian security forces arrested 23 people, including well-known human rights defenders and lawyers, in Ramallah for their participation in a planned demonstration, the Special Coordinator called on the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, to immediately stop arrests of human rights defenders on charges that violate their right to freedom of expression.

Mr. Wennesland pointed to recent seizures of Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem and urged Israeli authorities to desist.

Noting a gradual and partial easing of the access restrictions in Gaza by Israeli authorities, he said that for the first time in 18 months, permits will be given to 2,000 Palestinian traders and 350 businesspeople, to cross from Gaza into Israel.

However, the volume of trade still remains below pre-escalation levels, he noted, adding that no amount of humanitarian or economic support on its own will address the challenges facing Gaza.

Political solutions

“Gaza requires political solutions that will see a full lifting of Israeli closures, the return of a legitimate Palestinian Government and the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian State,” he said.

Commenting on militant group Hamas’s takeover of a UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school, he said the agency had declared its institutions “inviolable at all times” and protested the move.

“While the school was subsequently vacated by Hamas, such actions undermine the inviolability and neutrality of UNRWA premises and compromise the safety return of children to their schools on time”, he said.

Turning to the “precarious” state of the Palestinian Authority’s finances, he said that Israel continues to deduct from the monthly transfer of clearance revenues, an amount equivalent to what it calculates is paid by the Palestinian Authority “to the families of prisoners and martyrs”.

Positive engagement

Also noting meetings between Israeli Ministers and their Palestinian counterparts, as well as a meeting on Sunday between Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz and President Abbas, he described the latter as “the highest-level meeting between the two sides since the formation of the current Israeli Government.”

“No positive, hopeful step should be wasted”, he said, calling for serious political efforts to return to meaningful negotiationsthat will address all final status issues, achieve a negotiated end to the occupation, and the vision of two States living side-by-side.

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