The top UN Mideast envoy warned Monday that the ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants is "fragile" and the "cycles of violence" will only stop when an independent Palestinian state lives side-by-side with Israel.
Tor Wennesland called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders and the international community at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on the latest violence "to strengthen diplomatic efforts to return to meaningful negotiations towards a viable two-state solution."
An Egyptian-mediated truce took effect late Sunday, ending the worst round of violence since an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas last year. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and has fought four wars with Hamas since the group won a 2006 election in Gaza and seized power from Fatah in 2007. The clashes have exacted a staggering toll on the impoverished territory's 2.3 million Palestinian residents.
Israel began the offensive last Friday targeting Islamic Jihad fighters in Gaza, saying it faced "concrete threats" from the militant group. The nearly three days of violence killed 46 Palestinians, including 15 children and four women, and wounded 311, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, while 70 Israelis were injured, according to the UN envoy.
Wennesland condemned the Palestinians' indiscriminate rocket fire aimed at populated centers in Israel. He recognized Israel's security concerns but stressed that any use of force "must be proportionate," with "all feasible steps" taken to avoid civilian casualties.
The UN envoy said the Egyptian-mediated ceasefire "helped prevent the outbreak of a full-scale war" and warned that "any resumption of hostilities will only have devastating consequences for Palestinians and Israelis and make any political progress elusive."
The Palestinian UN ambassador, Riyad Mansour, said the Palestinian people are "powerless," and urged the Security Council to take action to ensure their protection.
"As the highest authority responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security, how many more years does it (Israel) get to impose its inhumane blockade on 2 million people (in Gaza), half of them children until someone says enough is enough?," he asked. "How many more children do we have to bury until someone says enough is enough?"
Mansour said the current situation "is profoundly unsustainable," and demanded that the council "not wait until the next war or the next election" to implement and enforce Security Council resolutions backing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council that President Joe Biden, who visited the region in July, reaffirmed that "the United States remains deeply committed to a two-state solution."
The United States strongly urges all parties "to refrain from any unilateral steps that would imperil progress," she said.
"We call on all member states to join us in supporting steps that can stabilize the situation on the ground, deliver economic benefits to the Palestinian people, and revitalize political horizons that meets the needs of both Israelis and Palestinians," Thomas-Greenfield said.
Israel's UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan told the Security Council its military took action "to protect our civilians and defend our country" and conducted the operation "with astounding accuracy and extreme precision," doing everything possible to minimize civilian casualties.
"Due to these extensive and documented precautions, there is no other military, I reiterate no other military, that has such a low collateral damage rate," Erdan told the council.
He stressed that the only reason Gaza is in the situation it is now is that Hamas and Islamic Jihad chose "terror and violence over coexistence and peace."
"There is no other explanation," Erdan said. "The only remedy for the Gazans is that their leaders stop trying to annihilate Israel and stop investing the resources in terror infrastructure."