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UN Middle East officials release update on developments, violence against civilians

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The United Nations official on Middle East peace updated the Security Council Monday on developments in the region, highlighting continued violence, including against civilians and children, as well as Israel’s ongoing settlement-related activity in the occupied West Bank.

Briefing via videoconference, Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, emphasized that the global community “must persevere in its efforts to prevent violent escalation in the region and encourage leaders on both sides to takes steps towards enabling a return to negotiations, not a retrenchment of conflict”.

On the implementation of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), he noted that there has been continued Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.  

“Over the past year, Israeli authorities advanced controversial settlement plans that had been frozen for years,” he said. 

Mladenov pointed out that half of them are deep in the West Bank, in areas crucial for the contiguity and viability of a future Palestinian State.  

He added that in the strategic location of E1, plans for some 3,500 units were advanced after an eight-year delay. 

"If implemented, the plan would sever the connection between the northern and southern West Bank, Mladenov warned. 

He stressed that settlements entrench Israel’s occupation and undermine the prospect of a two-State solution.

He reported that on December 13, the Israeli authorities announced a tender for 290 housing units in the settlement of Gilo, East Jerusalem.  

"On December 16, the Knesset advanced, in a preliminary vote, a bill that sets a two-year time frame within which to legalize 65 outposts," he said, 

He stated that the legislation would mandate that those outposts be treated as authorized settlements in the interim.

Stressing that continuing violence, attacks against civilians, and incitement to violence are unacceptable, Mladenov said all perpetrators must be held accountable.  
In particular, “children should not be the target of violence or put in harm’s way”.  

"Security forces must exercise maximum restraint and may use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life," he said, underlining that Israeli and Palestinian authorities must carry out thorough, independent, impartial and prompt investigations into all instances of possible excessive use of force.

The indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars towards Israeli civilian population centers by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad or others is prohibited by international humanitarian law, he continued, saying Palestinian militants must cease the practice immediately.  

Expressing concern over continued settler-related violence in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, he called upon Israeli authorities to abide by international law by protecting Palestinians from violence by Israeli settlers and to ensure that farmers can access their land freely and safely.

Highlighting several incidents that occurred in the reporting period, he cited one in which a deaf and mute Palestinian man from Nablus reportedly died of complications resulting from an injury sustained from live ammunition.  

The man was shot by private security guards on August 17, 2020 at Qalandia checkpoint, north of Jerusalem, he said, noting that the Israel Defense Forces previously stated that an investigation was opened into the incident.

The financial situation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) remains a serious concern, he said, recalling that, with support from partners and a loan from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), a disruption of vital services was averted in November.  

Unfortunately, despite that support, there is a December funding gap of $88 million, he said, adding that the January 2021 income forecast for UNRWA is worse and may well require more drastic measures to prevent a financial collapse of the Agency in the months to come.  

He noted that, on December 15, the Palestinian Prime Minister and the Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory launched the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan, which includes an appeal for $417 million to help 1.8 million vulnerable people over the coming year.

Turning to the Gaza Strip, he said the situation remains fragile amidst immense suffering and the constant risk of a major escalation.  

Taking into consideration its legitimate security concerns, he urged Israel to ease the restrictions on the movement of goods and people to and from Gaza.  

Concerning the wider peace process, he urged Israelis, Palestinians, regional States and the broader international community to take practical steps to enable the parties to re-engage.  

On the Palestinian Authority’s decision to restart civil and security coordination with Israel, he said the Palestinian Authority has received $900 million in back revenues vital to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and the deteriorating financial situation.

New opportunities must be built, he said, while underscoring the difficulty of the road ahead.  

“It is not going to be easy, in fact it will be very, very hard, painstaking work to stitch back together what is necessary to allow leaders on both sides to engage in a meaningful process.” 

The conflict can be resolved by peaceful negotiation, but that must come from inside, not outside the region, he emphasized.  

The goal of a just and lasting peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples remains achievable and can be negotiated by the Middle East Quartet and all relevant actors, he added.

Following the briefing, Security Council members took to the floor, with many expressing their concerns over Israel’s annexation plans, continuing settlement activities and confiscations.  

Several applauded the work of UNRWA and called upon the international community to further their financial support for the Agency.  

Others welcomed the normalization of relations between some countries of the region and Israel as a positive step.  

Speakers also underscored their concern over violence, particularly against civilians and children.

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