Diplomatic efforts focused on UN Security Council meeting Sunday as conflict escalates

US envoy to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials while Egypt leads regional contacts.
Saturday 15/05/2021
A fireball and smoke billow up into the air during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City early on May 15, 2021. (AFP)
A fireball and smoke billow up into the air during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City early on May 15, 2021. (AFP)

UN, NEW YORK--Diplomatic attempts to reach a ceasefire in the escalating hostilities between Hamas and Israel are focused on a virtual public meeting that the UN Security Council will hold Sunday.

The UN chief  has appealed on Friday for an immediate halt to fighting between Gaza and Israel. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the conflict could “unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism,” not only in the Palestinian territory and Israel but also elsewhere in the region.

A UN spokesman said Guterres is urging the parties to allow mediation efforts to intensify and end the fighting more quickly.

Stephane Dujarric says the UN is “actively involved” in those mediation efforts.

Guterres also reiterated his commitment to support Palestinians and Israelis in resolving the conflict, including through the so-called Quartet of Middle East mediators — the UN, the US, the European Union and Russia.

The United States, which had blocked an originally scheduled Friday session and proposed a meeting early next week, agreed to move the UN Security Council session — requested by Tunisia, Norway and China — to Sunday, the same sources said.

UN Security Council sessions, held by videoconference due to the pandemic, require support of all 15 members.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, asked about the scrapping of Friday’s session, had said the United States was not blocking a meeting but wanted to hold it later.

“We are open to and supportive of an open discussion at the United Nations,” Blinken told reporters in Washington.

“I think we’re looking at early next week. This, I hope, will give some time for the diplomacy to have some effect,” he said, before the meeting was set for Sunday.

The United States, Israel’s key ally, has defended the Jewish state’s deadly offensive in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian militant movement Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip.

But President Joe Biden’s administration has also voiced alarm over civilian casualties and earlier pushed Israel to hold off on evictions of Palestinians in Jerusalem, the immediate trigger for the flare-up.

Blinken spoke Wednesday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas.

The United States is seeking “an end to the violence which continues to claim the lives of innocent children, women and men,” Blinken said.

“We’ve been very clear that rocket attacks must cease,” he said.

US Secretary for Israel-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr has arrived in the region. He was due to meet Israeli leaders in Jerusalem Saturday before heading to the occupied West Bank for talks with Palestinian officials.

He wants to encourage a “sustainable calm”, State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said.

In the meanwhile, the US administration notified Congress on Thursday that it will provide $10 million to Palestinian groups in the West Bank and Gaza to support exchange and reconciliation projects with Israelis. The recipients of the aid were not named.

The State Department said Friday that the money is part of more than $100 million that the administration allocated to the Palestinians earlier this year, reversing a near total cutoff in support under former President Donald Trump.

Washington has been criticised for not doing more to end the intensifying violence.

Regional efforts

Egypt was leading regional efforts to secure a ceasefire. Cairo pushed for both sides to cease fire from midnight on Friday pending further negotiations, two Egyptian security sources said, with Egypt leaning on Hamas and others, including the United States, trying to reach an agreement with Israel. Its efforts did not however bear fruit.

An Egyptian intelligence official said Israel had turned down an Egyptian proposal for a one-year cease-fire that Hamas had accepted. The official, who was close to Egypt’s talks with both sides, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal negotiations.

The foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan discussed efforts to end the Gaza confrontation and to prevent “provocations” in Jerusalem, Egypt’s foreign ministry said.

“The talks have taken a real and serious path on Friday,” a Palestinian official said. “The mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations are stepping up their contacts with all sides in a bid to restore calm, but a deal hasn’t yet been reached.”

Tunisian and Egyptian foreign ministers held talks Friday. Tunisia hold a non permanent seat at the UN Security Council.

The United Arab Emirates on Friday called for a ceasefire and negotiations while offering condolences to all victims of the fighting, citing the promise of September accords that made the UAE and Bahrain the first Arab states in a quarter century to establish formal ties with Israel.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI on Friday ordered 40 tonnes of aid for Palestinians to be shipped to the West Bank and Gaza following recent violence.

A Palestinian protester launches flares amid clashes with Israeli soldiers in the city center of Hebron in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)
A Palestinian protester launches flares amid clashes with Israeli soldiers in the city center of Hebron in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)

The aid includes food, medicine and blankets and will be carried by military aircrafts, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Morocco also denounced “the violent acts perpetrated in occupied Palestinian territories,” and reiterated support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Escalating violence

Eleven Palestinians were killed in clashes in the occupied West Bank on Friday and there were fears of worse violence Saturday as Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of Israel’s creation in 1948, which turned hundreds of thousands into refugees.

Despite intensifying diplomatic efforts to ease five days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, Israel’s air force struck several sites in the coastal enclave overnight, while rockets again tore towards Israel.

The overall death toll in Gaza since Monday now tops 130, more than 30 of them children. Around 950 people have been wounded.

Egypt opened its Rafah border crossing with Gaza on Saturday to allow in 10 ambulances carrying seriously injured Palestinians for treatment in Egyptian hospitals, medical officials said.

Israel, which is also trying to contain an outbreak of internal Jewish-Arab violence, is facing its bloodiest conflict with Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war.

Its bombardment began on Monday after the territory’s Islamist rulers Hamas fired rockets towards Jerusalem in response to a bloody Israeli police action at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in annexed east Jerusalem.

More than 2,000 rockets have been fired at Israel since then, killing nine people, including a child and a soldier. More than 560 people have been wounded.

Between 7 pm Friday and 7 am Saturday, some 200 rockets were fired at southern Israel, over 100 of which were intercepted by air defences, the Israeli military said.

Israel’s response has seen it hit nearly 800 targets, including a massive assault Friday on a Hamas tunnel network dug under civilian areas.

Tower blocks and other multi-storey buildings have been levelled.

Some 10,000 Palestinians have fled homes near the Israeli border for fear of a ground offensive, the United Nations said.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave no indication that Israel was ready to ease its campaign.

“I said we’d deliver heavy blows to Hamas and other terror groups, and we’re doing that,” Netanyahu said.

“They’re paying and will continue to pay dearly for that. It’s not over yet.”

Israel estimates that more than 30 leaders of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad have been killed.

It has hit sites it describes as military targets such as Hamas bomb-making facilities and the homes of senior militant commanders.