UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called in strong terms for an end to the visibly escalating violence in the Middle East.
“This senseless cycle of bloodshed, terror and destruction must stop immediately,” Guterres said on Sunday at the start of the third UN Security Council meeting in a week.
“I am appalled by the increasingly large numbers of Palestinian civilian casualties, including many women and children, from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. I also deplore Israeli fatalities from rockets launched from Gaza,” the UN chief continued.
The clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were also worrying, he said.
Guterres mentioned the possible expulsion of some Palestinian families from their homes, which is one of the triggers of the current crisis.
“It has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism, not only in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole,” he said.
The only way to resolve the conflict, he said, is through negotiations aimed at a two-state solution.
The Security Council meeting on Sunday morning in New York had been eagerly awaited: Many members of the 15-member council, the UN’s most powerful body, had announced speeches by their foreign ministers.
The United States – Israel’s most important ally – had been isolated in the council on the Middle East issue in the days before and blocked a joint statement.
A ceasefire and stopping the violence were the most pressing task, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.
“Regrettably, simply because of the obstruction of one country, the Security Council hasn’t been able to speak with one voice,” he said in voicing criticism of the US.
Wang urged the US to shoulder its responsibilities and to take up a just position in efforts to ease the situation, rebuild trust and advance a political settlement.
The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the US had been “working tirelessly through diplomatic channels to try to bring an end to this conflict.”
President Joe Biden had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday, she said.
“We’ve also been alarmed by violence impacting journalists and medical personnel whose roles are crucial, and must be protected and respected,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
She urged Hamas and other Palestinian groups in Gaza to immediately halt rocket attacks and other provocations.
And she called for all parties to avoid “incitement, violent attacks and terrorist acts as well as the evictions, including in East Jerusalem, demolitions and settlement construction east of the 1967 lines.”
US Special Envoy Hady Amr is currently in the region trying to find a diplomatic solution.
The crisis is seen at the UN as the first acid test of whether the new Biden administration will follow through on its commitment to international solutions after the unilateral efforts of the Trump years.