Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Thursday urged the UN Security Council (UNSC) to issue a call for an end to Israel's devastating violence against the Palestinians in Gaza, saying "it is time to say enough."
Addressing an emergency meeting of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Qureshi said Israel had mounted a "relentless onslaught" on the people of Palestine, resulting in scores of deaths and limited access to food, water, hygiene and health services.
Hospitals and hygiene services depended on electricity but fuel for the power plants had almost run out, he pointed out.
The 193-member UNGA met to discuss the renewed violence, but no action was expected.
"As we speak, people in Palestine are being killed with impunity. Death echoes in every home in Gaza. [The enclave] is plunged in darkness literally and metaphorically; the only light is of Israeli explosions," Qureshi said.
"This is Palestine where, in full view of the world, Israeli air strikes bring down entire buildings to kill and terrorise innocent Palestinians and even silence the media," he added, referring to Israel's destruction of a high-rise building in Gaza City that housed the offices of The Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other media outlets on Saturday.
"It is time to say enough. The voice of the Palestinian people cannot and will not be silenced. We, the representatives of the Islamic world, are here to speak with them and for them."
The foreign minister said it was "appalling" that the UN Security Council had been "unable to exercise its primary responsibility" of maintaining international peace and security, adding that it had "failed to demand even a cessation of hostilities".
The countries preventing the UN from putting forth a resolution demanding an end to the violence bore a heavy responsibility, Qureshi said.
The US mission to the United Nations on Wednesday expressed opposition to a French push for a Security Council resolution on the conflict. France has circulated a draft text to council members, diplomats said. The United States has traditionally shielded its ally Israel at the UN.
The French draft text, seen by Reuters, demands an immediate cessation of hostilities and condemns “the indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian areas”, without laying blame. It urges protection of civilians and revival of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians with the aim of creating two states.
"We must not fail the Palestinian people at this critical juncture," Qureshi stressed, and expressed the hope that the UNSC would issue a call for the cessation of Israeli attacks.
"Let us be clear, there is no more room for military equivalence between the beleaguered and occupied Palestinian people who have no army, no navy and no air force, and the Israeli war machine — one of the most powerful in the world.
"This is a war between a military occupier and an occupied people. It is a war between an illegal occupation and a legitimate struggle for self-determination," he said, pointing to UNGA Resolution 2649 which he said affirmed the legitimacy of the struggle of people under colonial and illegal domination to fight for their right to self-determination using any means at their disposal.
"We should mobilise all possible humanitarian help for the devastated Palestinian population in Gaza and other parts of the occupied territories," he said, urging the global body to arrange a comprehensive humanitarian assistance programme.
Qureshi said it was necessary to send medical teams, medicines, food and other supplies to Palestine. He called for an international force to be deployed for protection and for Israel to open all access points to Gaza so aid could reach the enclave.
"If the Security Council cannot agree to send the protection force, a coalition of the willing can be formed to provide at least civilian observers to monitor a cessation of hostilities and supervise the provision of humanitarian help to the Palestinians."
He also called on the UNGA to "condemn Israel's forced and illegal eviction of Palestinians, including in the district of Sheikh Jarrah and the construction of Jewish settlements", stressing Israel's "crimes against humanity should not escape accountability".
"There should be no immunity for violating international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention," he said and asked for the activation of UN Human Rights Council, International Criminal Court (ICC) and International Court of Justice (ICJ) to ensure that Israel was held accountable for its "war crimes".
Qureshi said the UN should also revive "concrete efforts to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and to dismantle the illegal settlements and apartheid-like regime Israel has imposed in the occupied territories".
He asked the UNGA to secure unconditional implementation of Resolution 242 in which the UNSC demanded that Israel withdraw its armed forces from territories occupied in the 1967 war.
"It is imperative to initiate bold steps to secure the implementation of the Security Council and General Assembly resolutions calling for the establishment of a viable, independent and contiguous Palestinian state with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.
"Pakistan endorses [Palestinian] President Abbas' call for an international conference to secure a peaceful settlement," he added.
The foreign minister termed the Palestine issue as the reason behind the turmoil and conflicts in the Middle East and the "principle root cause of the humiliation and anger in the Arab and Muslim world".
He said the onus for restoring peace was on Israel which needed to end its occupation of Palestinian land. "This General Assembly session must send a clear message to Israel and the Palestinian people," he added.
"It is only through determined and decisive action that this Assembly can restore the credibility of the United Nations and demonstrate its effective role in maintaining global peace and world order based on equity and justice," he concluded.
In his speech at the UNGA meeting, the top Palestinian diplomat accused Israel of committing “genocide” against Palestinian families and urged the international community to protect the Palestinian people until their freedom was assured.
Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki emphasised that “every country in the world has a responsibility to ensure that peace, justice and freedom prevail.”
He urged the assembly to ensure that Israel was held accountable for killing innocent Palestinians and was not provided with arms. He said the presence of a dozen ministers, almost all from Arab and Islamic countries, sent a clear message: “Stop the violence.”
The Palestinian minister responded to Israel’s claims of acting in self-defence by saying: “How can an occupying power have the right to defend itself when a whole people under occupation is deprived of the very same rights?”
Al-Malki said the Palestinians had informed the Biden administration and the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the US, UN, European Union and Russia — that “ending occupation against our people and our holy sites should be followed by a political process” that would lead to ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine and its capital.
'Hell on earth'
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described Gaza as “hell on earth” for children, appealing to Israel for rapid and unhindered aid access.
“If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza today,” Guterres told the General Assembly, adding that he would launch a full humanitarian appeal for funding as soon as possible.
“The hostilities have caused serious damage to vital civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including roads and electricity lines, contributing to a humanitarian emergency. Crossings into Gaza have been closed and power shortages are affecting water supplies,” Guterres added.
He called for an immediate ceasefire and urged Israel's military to exercise maximum restraint and Hamas to stop indiscriminate rocket fire. He also called on Israel to stop demolitions and evictions in the Palestinian territories.
“Access for humanitarian goods is paramount. Attacks by militant groups on areas surrounding crossing points are unacceptable,” Guterres said. “At the same time, Israel has a duty to allow and facilitate rapid and unhindered access for humanitarian aid ... into Gaza.”
Hundreds of buildings and homes have been destroyed or damaged, Guterres said, and airstrikes have damaged several hospitals. Some 50,000 people were seeking shelter in UN schools, mosques and other places with little access to water, food, hygiene or health services, the UN chief added.
Foreign Minister Qureshi arrived in New York on Wednesday evening on a Palestine peace mission and to attend the UNGA emergency meeting, called by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Arab League.
Pakistan has joined hands with Palestine, Sudan and Turkey to take a united stance at the UNGA session. This is the first UN meeting that has seen the physical presence of foreign ministers since the Covid-19 pandemic paralysed the world. Prior to this, the UN had been holding virtual meetings in the wake of the pandemic.
Soon after his arrival in New York, Qureshi hosted a working dinner of the foreign ministers of OIC member states to discuss the situation in Palestine.
"We hope the UNGA meeting will send a strong message … to end the Israeli aggression and to take concrete steps to find a solution to the Palestine issue," said the foreign minister while addressing the dinner.
A statement issued by Pakistan’s UN mission said that the foreign minister’s visit to New York was part of Pakistan’s intensive diplomatic outreach to mobilise international support for ending the ongoing Israeli aggression against the Palestinians.
The UNGA session follows an intensive international effort to secure a ceasefire in the occupied Palestinian territories after a week of deadly cross-border violence.
Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed 230 Palestinians, including 65 children, according to the Gaza health ministry, leaving vast areas in rubble and displacing tens of thousands in the crowded territory.
Israel's army has meanwhile said Hamas and other Islamist armed groups in Gaza have fired 4,070 rockets towards Israel, the overwhelming majority of them intercepted by its Iron Dome air defences. The rockets have claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child, with one Indian and two Thai nationals among those killed, the police said.