Middle East situation escalating towards war, warns UN

Published May 13, 2021
Smoke and a ball of fire rise above buildings in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, during an Israeli air strike, on May 12. — AFP
Smoke and a ball of fire rise above buildings in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, during an Israeli air strike, on May 12. — AFP

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process warned on Wednesday that the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was “escalating towards a full-scale war”, amid continuing air strikes and rocket attacks.

“Stop the fire immediately. We’re escalating towards a full-scale war”, Coordinator Tor Wennesland said in a post on Twitter.

Urging leaders on all sides to take the responsibility of de-escalation, the UN envoy added: “The cost of war in Gaza is devastating and is being paid by ordinary people. UN is working with all sides to restore calm. Stop the violence now.”

Earlier, UN Secretary General António Guterres also joined other world leaders in appealing for calm. “The Secretary General is gravely concerned by the serious escalations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, including the latest escalation in Gaza, which add to the heightened tensions and violence in occupied East Jerusalem,” said a statement issued by his office.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said at Wednesday afternoon briefing that the UN was closely monitoring the outbreak of violence in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territory, and “the disturbing images coming through, especially the impact on children and civilians.”

The report said that between May 10-12, at least 43 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza and at least 296 injured, with air strikes damaging civilian infrastructure and disrupting electrical supply.

Scores of homes and buildings, including some schools, had been damaged.

According to OCHA, Palestinian armed groups had also fired at least 1,050 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza towards Israel, with 200 failing to clear the border and landing inside the enclave.

At least six Israelis died in these attacks, including two Palestinian citizens of Israel, and a foreign national. At least 100 other Israelis have been injured, and property has been damaged, including civilian infrastructure. Israeli forces also injured at least 309 people in incidents across the West Bank.

UNRWA, the UN agency that assists Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, expressed “profound concern” over the impact of the military escalation on children and called on parties to exercise maximum restraint.

“Our hearts go out to their families and friends in communities that have been so cruelly affected by this latest escalation”, UNRWA said in a statement.

“Children are and must be protected under International Law and those responsible for breaching their obligations must be held fully accountable on the basis of clear evidence”, it added.

Humanitarian concerns

OCHA also highlighted that current escalation in the region risks worsening “an already poor humanitarian situation”, especially in Gaza, where the struggling health sector is further burdened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Of immediate concern is the shutdown of Gaza’s sole power plant by the end of this week due to lack of fuel, with negative consequences for the provision of vital services”, it said.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2021

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