The UN Security Council has held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Gaza, with several members raising concerns amid a fragile ceasefire between Israel and Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian armed group, after three days of Israeli air raids on the territory.
Speaking via video at the start of the meeting, UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland warned: “The ceasefire is fragile. Any resumption of hostilities will only have devastating consequences for Palestinians and Israelis and make any political progress on key issues elusive.”
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia stressed the council was “deeply concerned by this turn of events, which could lead to the resumption of a fully fledged military confrontation and a further worsening of the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza”.
At least 44 Palestinians — nearly half of them civilians, including 15 children — were killed after Israel began a series of bombardments of Islamic Jihad positions in Gaza on Friday. Hundreds of people in the territory were injured, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
The armed group fired thousands of rockets in response, but most were intercepted or blown up. Israeli emergency services said three people were injured by shrapnel and 31 others slightly hurt.
The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire came into force on Sunday night, but both sides have reserved the right to respond if the ceasefire is breached.
Wennesland said that the UN’s assessment of the violence was ongoing, noting that “some 20 percent” of the approximately 1,100 rockets fired by armed Palestinian groups had fallen within the Gaza Strip.
The fighting was the worst in Gaza since last year’s 11-day war that killed at least 250 people.
Ahead of the meeting, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan called for the council to place “full accountability” on Islamic Jihad.
“There must be one outcome and one outcome only, to condemn the [Islamic Jihad] for its double war crimes while placing the full accountability … for the murder of innocent Palestinians on the shoulder of the radical terror group,” he said at a press briefing.
“They fire rockets at Israeli civilians while using Gazans as human shields. This is a double war crime,” he said.
American UN ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield supported “Israel’s right to defend its people against terrorist threats”.
“This Council should be able to come together and unconditionally repudiate the terrorism of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, whose reckless actions have put the lives of civilians, on both sides, at risk,” she said.
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour condemned Israel’s “unjustified aggression”.
“Are you ready to say enough is enough? As the highest authority responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security?” he demanded. “How many more children do we have to bury until someone says enough is enough?”
The Security Council’s consultations took place at the UN headquarters in New York.
No statement is expected after the closed-door meeting, which will follow the open debate, several diplomatic sources told the AFP news agency.