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Security Council discusses crisis in the Middle East; UN chief warns of conflict’s ‘further spillover’

Video feed of the Security Council meeting.

1:37 PM

Meeting adjourned

With all speakers having delivered their statements, the President of the Security Council adjourned the meeting.

1:31 PM

Violence, deaths and detentions have grown: Ecuador

José Javier De La Gasca, Ambassador and Permanent Representative Ecuador and Security Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity and said his country unequivocally condemns the terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October.

Demanding the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, he said the magnitude of the violence in Gaza has meant that events in other localities have slipped away from the spotlight.

Nevertheless, the negative trends since the beginning of October in the West Bank have also increased, he continued, noting that the level of violence has grown, as have deaths and detentions.

Those responsible for violent attacks must be brought to justice, he stressed, condemning all terrorist attacks and adding that security forces must always use restraint.

The Ecuadorian Ambassador also voiced his strong opposition to all unilateral measures that make peace more difficult, including construction and expansion of settlements, and the confiscation of Palestinians’ land, demolition of their homes and their displacement.

1:12 PM

Too many civilians have been killed: UK

Barbara Woodward, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom (UK) to the UN underscored her country’s commitment to Israel’s security and the need to address the threat posed by Hamas.

“But, too many civilians have been killed,” she said, stating that Israel must comply with international humanitarian law and clearly differentiate between terrorists and civilians.

Further, as the situation in the occupied West Bank underlines the urgent need to progress towards peace, Israel must stop settler violence immediately and hold the perpetrators accountable, Ambassador Woodward added.

She further called on Israel to adhere to its commitments and cease all settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and stressed that approving further settlements serves only to raise tensions in the West Bank.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority should demonstrate – through their policies – a genuine commitment to a two-State solution, the Ambassador urged.

She also warned of the spillover potential of the conflict and underscored that a full-blown conflict between Israel and Hizbullah would be “catastrophic” for Lebanon and the wider region.

1:03 PM

No safe place in Gaza: China

GENG Shuang, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of China to the UN said that the protracted nature of the war would only cause more casualties on both sides.

“There is no safe place in Gaza,” he said, warning that the situation on the ground is not allowing humanitarians to carry out their work and reach people in need with aid.

Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank and its continued escalation of raids have eroded the basis of a two-State solution, he added, stressing that Israel must cease all settlement activities and hold perpetrators accountable.

He further highlighted the importance of implementing the two-State solution and as well as guarantee the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.

“We support Palestine’s full membership in the UN, and the early resumption of direct negotiations between Palestine and Israel,” Ambassador Geng added.

12:42 PM

International law must be implemented by all: France

Nicolas de Rivière, French Ambassador and Permanent Representative, expressed his country’s “deep concern” over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“The priority must go the immediate implementation of a lasting ceasefire, with the help of all regional and international partners,” he said, adding that humanitarian aid must urgently be delivered to civilians in the enclave along with guarantees of access “without restrictions”.

He also stressed the need for implementing the two Security Council resolutions adopted recently.

“In this regard, France recalls that International humanitarian law must be implemented in all circumstances and by all,” the Ambassador said, noting that his country will remain fully involved with humanitarian efforts for the civilian population in the Gaza Strip.

He also said that the Security Council cannot be solely limited to addressing the “symptoms” of the crisis, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages. He also urged the 15-member body to condemn the terrorist attacks committed by Hamas and other groups on 7 October, including sexual violence.

“It is incomprehensible that this Council has still not been able to do this,” he said, while also highlighting the importance of the two-State solution.

12:29 PM

2023, the bloodiest year for West Bank: Russia

Vassily Nebenzia, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, said that his country is following the “very tense” situation in the West Bank, against the background of crisis in Gaza.

“We are seeing continued operations by Israeli security forces and violent settlers, which not only threaten a large-scale humanitarian disaster but also to spread the crisis to the rest of the region,” he said.

He noted increasing tensions in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, while Egypt and Jordan are facing unprecedented risks of a massive exodus of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank.

Ambassador Nebenzia also said that 302 Palestinians, including 79 children, were killed by Israeli military and settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 7 October.

“Overall their numbers reached 504 people. 2023 was the bloodiest year for the inhabitants of the West Bank,” he said, adding that the “multiple security operations by Israel on this part of the occupied territory began long before the terrorist attack of 7 October.”

Categorically condemning the terrorist attacks of 7 October, Mr. Nebenzia said that the raids began “without any linkage” to the terrorist threat that the Israelis have used as a justification to conduct the unprecedented operation to clean up Gaza, claiming the lives of over 21,000 people, including 144 UN staff members.

12:28 PM

Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, Stéphane Dujarric. UN Photo/Evan Schneider (file)
UN Photo/Evan Schneider (file)

Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, Stéphane Dujarric. UN Photo/Evan Schneider (file)

UN Secretary-General ‘gravely concerned’ over further spillover

The Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General has, meanwhile, issued a statement on the Middle East.

“As the hostilities between Israel and Hamas and other groups in Gaza intensify, the Secretary-General remains gravely concerned about the further spillover of this conflict, which could have devastating consequences for the entire region,” the statement, issued by Stéphane Dujarric, said.
There is a continued risk of wider regional conflagration, the longer the conflict in Gaza continues, given the risk of escalation and miscalculation by multiple actors, it added.
The statement also noted that the escalating violence in the occupied West Bank, including intensified Israeli security forces operations, high numbers of fatalities, settler violence and attacks on Israelis by Palestinians, is “extremely alarming”.  

Regional stability impacted

“The daily exchanges of fire across the Blue Line risk triggering a broader escalation between Israel and Lebanon and affecting regional stability,” it said, noting also the UN chief’s increasing worry about the spillover effects of continuing attacks by armed groups in Iraq and Syria, and attacks by the Houthi group in Yemen against vessels in the Red Sea, which have escalated in recent days.  
“The Secretary-General urges all parties to exercise maximum restraint and take urgent steps to de-escalate tensions in the region,” the statement added, highlighting his appeal “to all members of the international community to do everything in their power to use their influence on the relevant parties to prevent an escalation of the situation in the region.”
“The Secretary-General reiterates his call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages,” the statement concluded.

12:20 PM

Death of any civilian is a tragedy: US

John Kelley, Minister Counsellor and Political Coordinator at the Permanent Mission of the United States (US) to the UN, said that his country shared the concern regarding the “sharp increase” in violence by extremist settlers in the West Bank and the “unprecedented” number of Palestinian fatalities there as well as in Gaza.

“We know 2023 has been the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank,” he said, stressing “the death of any civilian, whether they were one of the individuals killed by Hamas terrorists on 7 October, or one of the Palestinians killed in the West Bank or in Gaza is a tragedy.”

“The United States continues to stress to the Israeli Government the importance of preventing extremist settler violence as well as investigating and holding accountable those who commit acts of violence,” he added.

Mr. Kelley also noted that the US will continue to implement visa restrictions, announced on 5 December, targeting individuals believed to have been “involved in or meaningfully contributed” to undermining peace, security and stability in the West Bank.

“These restrictions reinforce the US’ long held belief advancing settlements in the West Bank undermines the prospects of a future Palestinian Sate and a two-State solution, as do any actions that undermine stability in the West Bank, including attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and Palestinian attacks against Israelis,” he said.

“Let us be clear, a two-State solution where Israelis and Palestinians live side by side in peace, is the path to peace,” he added.

12:14 PM

The ‘very viability’ of two-State solution at risk: UAE

Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the UN said that today’s briefings “underscore” the urgency of the meeting on the “very viability” of the two-State solution and stability in the Middle East region.

“In this latest war of this decades long conflict, it is clear that we are at a crossroads,” she said, noting that Security Council members, including the UAE, “have to make bold and perhaps uncomfortable decisions.”

The alternative, she warned, is the “hellscape” of Gaza expanded into the West Bank, Israel, Lebanon, and the other parts of the Middle East.

“Gaza in 2023 demonstrated the immense capacity of humans to inflict untold horror on other humans,” she added, noting that the war is a “war of extremists”.

She went on to note the desperate situation of civilians in the enclave amid continuing bombardment by Israeli forces, which not only risk the lives of Palestinians but also those of Israeli hostages remaining in the Strip.

“In the face of this carnage, we have all rediscovered the urgency of achieving the two-State solution as a way forward out of this,” she said, urging “decisive action” to keep it on track.

11:52 PM

Northern Israel reaching the ‘point of no return’

Gilad Menashe Erdan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Israel to UN, questioned why an “urgent briefing” of the Security Council is not called when Israeli civilians and civilian sites are attacked.

Gilad Erdan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Israel, addresses the Security Council.
United Nations

Gilad Erdan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Israel, addresses the Security Council.

“Do these attacks sound like a mere spillover, is this violence occurring magically on its own. Is it not clear genocidal terrorists are seeking to murder Israeli citizens every single day,” he said.

“This Council is quick to show solidarity with civilians across the Middle East so long as they are not Israelis,” he added, asking why the Security Council is silent when innocent Israeli civilians are targeted.

“Why have you not condemned the rocket fire from Lebanon, Syria and Yemen,” he said, warning that the situation in northern Israel is “reaching the point of no return.”

“Every day, innocent Israelis are under attack. If these attacks persist, Israel will ensure that these acts of terror stop,” Ambassador Erdan said, reiterating that if the attacks continue, “the situation will escalate and may lead to a full scale war.”

11:35 AM

Killing of Palestinian civilians ‘not a collateral effect’

Majed Bamya, Deputy Permanent Observer of the Observer State of Palestine addressed the Security Council, stating that the killing of Palestinian civilians is “not a collateral effect” of war.

Majed Bamya, Deputy Permanent Observer of the Observer State of Palestine, addresses the Security Council.
United Nations

Majed Bamya, Deputy Permanent Observer of the Observer State of Palestine, addresses the Security Council.

“This Israeli assault relies, by design, on mass and indiscriminate killing of civilians. The humanitarian catastrophe is not the consequence of the war, it is a tool employed by Israel to pressure people and force them out,” he said.

He went on to note that the Council has called for the protection of civilians and for immediate, safe, unhindered and expanded humanitarian access to deliver assistance throughout the Gaza Strip, for respect for the laws of laws, and that it has rejected forced displacement.

“All of which require an immediate ceasefire that this Council has been prevented to call for, repeatedly,” he said, noting that Israel has reacted with “disregard and disdain.”

“Why are they getting away with murder at this unprecedented scale,” he said, adding “because they were never held accountable.”

“That is why they confess to their crimes, that is why steal our lives, our land, our resources, our money, our past, our present and our future in broad daylight,” he said.

11:28 AM

All parties showing ‘reckless disregard’: Norwegian Refugee Council

Itay Epshtain, Senior Advisor at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), informed Council members of the legal observations that underpin the NRC’s response to the humanitarian crisis.

“Some capture serious violations that have been perpetrated and continue to occur, others relate to premeditated atrocities that should be prevented by this august Council,” he said, noting that all parties – Palestinians armed groups and Israel – have shown reckless disregard for the norms of international law, including the basic rules of international humanitarian law, “the very rules they must comply with in all circumstances, breached.”

He emphasized that the NRC has condemned the atrocious violence launched by Hamas against Israeli civilians and continues to call for the immediate release of all hostages. It also calls for humane treatment of Palestinians detainees, in keeping with international law.

“The same legal certainty must also mean a halt to the Israeli offensive from which ordinary Gazans have no refuge before it claims the lives of even more civilians, many of them women and children,” he said.

11:15 AM

‘The choice is ours’: Marwan Muasher

Marwan Muasher, Vice President for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan, said he wanted to focus on the first day after the war and the prospects for a political settlement.

Before that, however, he pointed out that the immediate priority must be ending the war on Gaza.

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“The Palestinians have suffered enough,” he said, adding that there is no international or humanitarian law that condones the carpet-bombing of civilians the world is witnessing today.

He noted that the question that is being asked repeatedly by the international community is “who is going to rule Gaza after Hamas,” adding that it is the wrong question to pose, if the implication is that this is the endgame as any policy based on this will lead to disastrous results.

“The repeated killings of civilians on both Israeli and Palestinian sides, the destruction of Gaza once again, the creation of another potential 1.5 million Palestinian refugees, and the looming danger of mass transfer should teach us that we cannot solve the problems by sticking to old paradigms that did not work,” he warned.

Mr. Muasher urged Council members to engage “at least hypnotically” in imagining the elements of a process forward, in which settlement activity would be completely frozen and fresh elections held in both Israel, and Gaza and the West Bank.

“If the international community decides that this is too unrealistic, let us look at what the alternatives might look like,” he said, noting that the international community is partly to blame for the situation today.

He argued that either a bold decision is taken to end the conflict now and effect a viable two-State solution or the world “will have to deal not only with the occupation but the more difficult question of Apartheid”.

“The choice is ours,” he said.

11:08 AM

Risk of spillover ‘remains high’: UN official

Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East at UN DPPA, informed Council members that the situation in the Middle East is alarming and continues to deteriorate, including “several interconnected theatres conflict”.

Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General, briefs the Security Council.
United Nations

Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General, briefs the Security Council.

He noted “intense” Israeli ground operations and fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas and other groups in most areas of Gaza, as Hamas and other Palestinian factions continue to fire rockets from Gaza into Israel.

“Civilians from both sides […] continue to bear the brunt of this conflict,” he said.

Reiterating the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, Mr. Khiari warned that the risk of regional spillover of this conflict with potential devastating consequences for the entire region “remains high” given also a multitude of actors involved.

He informed Council members of “continued daily exchanges” of fire across the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, posing a “grave risk” to regional stability.

“Increasingly, there have been strikes on civilian areas, with civilian casualties, on both sides of the Blue Line, in addition to a rising number of fatalities among combatants,” he added.

Mr. Khiari also noted attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria, with the US conducting some airstrikes against groups suspected of these actions in Iraq and Syria. He also cited reports of Israeli air strikes inside Syria, as well as tensions in the Red Sea. 

11:05 AM

Meeting called to order

José Javier De La Gasca, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Ecuador, which holds the Presidency of the Security Council for December, called the meeting to order.

Israel has been invited to the meeting, as has the been the Observer State of Palestine.

Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs; Marwan Muasher, Vice President for studies at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan; and Itay Epshtain, Norwegian Refugee Council Special Advisor and Senior Humanitarian Law and Policy Consultant will brief the meeting.

10:35 AM

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a non-permanent member called for the urgent meeting, and a senior UN official from the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) is expected to brief ambassadors.

The meeting follows a resolution adopted last week by the Security Council calling for a scale-up in aid deliveries to civilians in the Gaza Strip. The resolution passed with 13 votes in favour, and the US and Russia abstaining.

Tensions in occupied West Bank

Earlier this month, Tor Wennesland, the UN Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, voiced “deep concerns” over escalating tensions in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Briefing the Security Council on 19 December, he noted “intensified armed exchanges” between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, predominantly in the context of Israeli operations, which led to exceedingly high levels of fatalities and arrests.

Mr. Wennesland also expressed alarm at lethal attacks carried out by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and by Palestinians against Israelis in the occupied West Bank and Israel.

“All perpetrators of violence must be held accountable and swiftly brought to justice,” he stressed.

Humanitarian situation in Gaza

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in the enclave remains dire.

Earlier today, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) cited reports from Gazan health authorities that half of all the pregnant women seeking safety in shelters suffer from thirst, malnutrition and a lack of healthcare. There is a lack of vaccinations for newborns and one in every two displaced children faces dehydration, malnutrition and disease.

Some 1.9 million Gazans, or 85 per cent of the enclave’s population, have been internally displaced since the start of Israel’s retaliation following Hamas’ deadly terror attacks in southern Israel on 7 October.

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