Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki on Sunday accused Israel of committing “war crimes” in its nearly weeklong offensive on Gaza as he urged international pressure at a United Nations Security Council session.
“Some may not want to use these words – war crimes and crimes against humanity – but they know they are true,” al-Maliki told the virtual session on the crisis on Sunday.
He also renewed the charge – angrily denounced by Israel – that Tel Aviv is pursuing a policy of “apartheid” against the Palestinians.
“Act now to end the aggression. Act now so freedom can prevail – not apartheid,” he told the Security Council.
Since violence flared on Monday, at least 192 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, including 58 children. More than 1,200 others have been wounded. In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces have killed at least 13 Palestinians.
Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children, from the thousands of missiles fired from Gaza by Hamas and other Palestinian groups, many of which were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pleaded for an immediate end to the violence and warned of an “uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis”.
But the council meeting, already delayed by Israel’s ally the United States, resulted in little action.
Al-Maliki – part of the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas, the group that controls the Gaza Strip and has been firing rockets into Israel – voiced regret over Israeli deaths but urged the Security Council to examine the power balance.
Israel “is an occupying colonial power. Any assessment of the situation that fails to take into account this fundamental fact is biased”, al-Maliki said.
Israel slams Hamas
Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, meanwhile blasted Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel as premeditated.
“It was completely premeditated by Hamas in order to gain political power,” said Erdan.
He said the Hamas had escalated tensions due to internal Palestinian political manoeuvres after the PA President Mahmoud Abbas delayed long-awaited elections.
When 14-year-old Amer Quneibi was questioned by Israeli authorities for throwing stones at settlers in Hebron, his family could not be by his side.
— AJWitness (@AJWitness) May 16, 2021
Hamas said its rocket fire into Israel was in response to Israeli forces’ repeated raising of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem earlier this month amid high tensions over moves to forcibly expel Palestinian families in the city to make way for Israeli settlers.
“Do you really believe that this property dispute is what caused Hamas to launch these large-scale attacks on the people of Israel?” Erdan said.
He thanked the United States, which had delayed the UN session, and called on the world body to condemn Hamas.
“Hamas targets civilians; Israel targets terrorists,” Erdan said.
“Israel makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties; Hamas makes every effort to increase civilian casualties.”
Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire, saying in his address to the council that hostilities between the two parties were “utterly appalling” and urging them to “allow mediation efforts to intensify and succeed”.
The UNSC had privately met twice last week over the worsening violence, but has so far been unable to agree on a public statement because the US – a strong ally of Israel – did not believe it would be helpful, diplomats said.
China voiced regret that the US has blocked a UNSC statement on Israeli-Palestinian violence as it urged greater international efforts to stop the bloodshed.
“We call upon the US to shoulder its responsibilities, take a just position, and together with most of the international community support the Security Council in easing the situation,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who chaired Sunday’s meeting as China is council president for May.
The US told the UNSC it has made clear to Israel, the Palestinians and others that it is ready to offer support “should the parties seek a ceasefire”.
“The United States has been working tirelessly through diplomatic channels to try to bring an end to this conflict,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the 15-member council.
“Because we believe Israelis and Palestinians equally have a right to live in safety and security.”
UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland urged the international community to “take action now to enable the parties to step back from the brink”.
Truce efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the UN have so far offered no sign of progress.
Israeli air attacks on Gaza City flattened three buildings and killed at least 42 people on Sunday, medics said, making it the deadliest single attack in seven days of heavy fighting.
The US has sent an envoy to the region in a bid to de-escalate tensions but critics say President Joe Biden – who called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Abbas on Saturday – has underestimated the severity of the crisis.
“This is an area that has traditionally been negotiated by the US and the UN … but given 70 plus years of this issue being on the UN’s agenda, and no progress being made … China is all too happy to call out the US here at the UN,” said Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey, reporting from the UN headquarters in New York.
“Sadly, at this stage, the reality is there doesn’t seem to be a way forward here in the Security Council.”