PALESTINIANS inspect a site hit by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Thursday. Over 250 Palestinians, including women and children, have been killed during the Israeli aggression.—AFP
PALESTINIANS inspect a site hit by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Thursday. Over 250 Palestinians, including women and children, have been killed during the Israeli aggression.—AFP

• FM addresses special UNGA meeting on Palestine
• Calls for a ‘coalition of the willing’ to monitor halt to hostilities

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan urged the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Thursday to deploy an international protection force to end the ongoing violence in Palestine and to disengage Israelis and Palestinians.

“The General Assembly should call for concrete steps to protect the Palestinians,” said Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi while addressing a special UNGA meeting on Palestine in New York. “We should deploy an international protection force, as was called for in General Assembly Resolution ES-10/20 and as demanded by the Islamic Summit Conference on 18 May 2018,” he said.

“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 the hostilities and supervise the provision of humanitarian help to the Palestinians,” he added.

Mr Qureshi also demanded mobilising “all possible humanitarian help” for the devastated Palestinian population in Gaza and other parts of the occupied territories. In addition to an earlier emergency appeal, the secretary general should launch a comprehensive humanitarian assistance plan to provide succor and sustenance to the Palestinians, he said.

“We need to send medical teams, medicines and other supplies, food and other necessities to Gaza and other parts of the occupied Palestinian territories. We welcome the access being provided by Egypt to Gaza. Israel must open all the access points to Gaza to ensure the timely and urgent delivery of international assistance,” said the foreign minister.

But he reminded the world body that its first priority must be to halt the Israeli aggression. “I hope that, even at this eleventh hour, the Security Council will call for a cessation of Israel’s attacks. If it fails to do so, the General Assembly must make this demand on behalf of the entire international community,” he said.

Mr Qureshi also used his address to express dismay at the UN Security Council’s inability to stop the Israeli aggression against the people of Palestine and urged the UNGA to undo the council’s failure.

“It is appalling that the Security Council has been unable to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,” he said. “The Security Council has failed even to demand a cessation of hostilities.”

The UNGA session follows an extensive international effort to secure a ceasefire in the occupied Palestinian territories, after a week of deadly cross-border violence.

Earlier, UN efforts to enforce a ceasefire were blocked by the United States. For the third time in a week, the US on Sunday stopped the Security Council (UNSC) from issuing a joint statement, which called for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr Qureshi criticised the move, saying that “those preventing the Council” from enforcing a ceasefire “bear a heavy responsibility” for this failure. But he did not name the United States.

“In these circumstances, the General Assembly must assume its own responsibility. We must not fail the Palestinian people at this critical juncture,” Mr Qureshi said.

Hell on earth

UN Secretary General António Guterres, who opened the debate, also called for ending this “senseless” cycle of violence in the Middle East.

“I am deeply shocked by the continued air and artillery bombardment by the Israeli defence forces in Gaza,” the UN chief said. “Also, horrified” by reports that nine members of one family were killed in a Palestinian refugee camp, he said, adding: “If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki urged the UNGA to “send a clear message to Israel: stop the massacre.”

He pointed out that Israel was not even hiding its campaign to kill entire families in their sleep. Instead, the Israelis “are insisting that it’s their right to do so and are blaming the victims for their plight,” he said.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu of Turkey displayed a map of Palestine inside the UN General Assembly to show how over the years Israel had turned Palestinians into a minority in their own lands and urged the world body to stop systematic eviction of Palestinians and demolition of their homes by the Israeli forces.

Mr Qureshi called on the secretary general and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to offer protection to the Israel’s Arab citizens who are being lynched and murdered by fascist Israeli gangs at the present time.

Mr Qureshi arrived in New York on Wednesday evening on a Palestine peace mission and to attend the UNGA emergency meeting, called by the OIC and the Arab Group to condemn the Israeli aggression.

Pakistan has joined hands with Palestine, Sudan and Turkey to take a united stance at the UN General Assembly. This was the first UN meeting attended by foreign ministers of the member states since the Covid-19 pandemic began. All previous meetings were virtual.

Soon after his arrival, Mr Qureshi hosted a working dinner of the OIC foreign ministers to discuss the situation in Palestine. The discussion focused on the worsening situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and on how to formulate a unified and unequivocal response from the OIC member states at the UNGA.

Foreign Ministers Çavusoglu; Al Malki, Othman Jerandi of Tunisia and General Assembly president Volkan Bozkir also attended the working dinner.

In his address to the special session, Mr Qureshi pointed out that in one week of Israeli attacks, over 250 Palestinians have been killed and thousands injured.

“Death echoes in every home in Gaza. The Israeli air strikes are responsible for the taking of every single life of the Abu Hatab family. Two were women and eight children. Let that sink in for just a moment,” said Mr Qureshi while urging the participants to realise the intensity of this tragedy.

“Hundreds of such tragedies are being enacted every hour in Gaza and other parts of the Palestinian territories,” he said, adding: “So far, over 10,000 Palestinians have fled their homes in Gaza. There is limited access to water, food, hygiene, and health services. Fuel for the power plants has almost run out.”

Mr Qureshi reminded the world that Gaza had plunged into darkness, literally and metaphorically. “The only light is that of Israeli explosions.”

Once again urging the listeners to let the intensity of the situation sink in, he said: “This is Palestine, where — in full view of the world — the Israeli air strikes bring down entire buildings to kill and terrorise innocent Palestinians and even silence the media.

He said that 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.”

‘It is time to say “Enough”!” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2021

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