posted on WED 30 JUL 2014 8:06 PM
Briefing on Gaza by Humanitarian Head and UN Agency for Palestine Refugees

Tomorrow morning (July 31), the Security Council will hold an urgent meeting on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and the recent attacks on UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) schools and UN designated shelters. Jordan requested the meeting today following fatal attacks on a UNRWA school and a compound housing the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Gaza. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos and UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl will brief. Consultations will follow.

Early today, an UNRWA school that was sheltering some 3,300 Palestinians came under attack and at least 15 people were killed. The shelling of the school took place despite clear information provided by the UN to Israel that the school was housing internally displaced persons (IDPs). UNRWA Commissioner General Krähenbühl said earlier today that the precise location of the school and the fact that it was housing thousands of IDPs was communicated to the Israeli army seventeen times, to ensure its protection, including just hours before the fatal shelling. Krähenbühl said that UNRWA’s initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit the school, adding that the situation had moved beyond the realm of humanitarian action alone and into the realm of accountability. This is the sixth time an UNRWA school sheltering civilians has been struck since the fighting began.

Yesterday, a compound housing the offices of OCHA and the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process was hit five times over a period of one hour, according to UN sources. Gaza’s sole power plant was also hit and is unlikely to be operable for the foreseeable future leaving most homes with an average of 2 hours of electricity per day, according to a statement made earlier today by humanitarian chief Amos. At press time, both parties continued to deny any responsibility for this attack.

Also yesterday, UNRWA said that it had found a cache of rockets at one of its schools in the Gaza Strip, a finding that seems to corroborate one of the arguments used by Israel to justify such attacks. UNRWA condemned those who endangered civilians by placing munitions in schools in violation of the agency’s neutrality. Speaking to journalists today, John Ging, OCHA’s Operations Director, said that these rockets were in schools abandoned by the UN due to the intensity of the conflict in those areas. He stressed that when the UN is in control of a school, it is free of weapons and that no one with arms is allowed in the school. Early today, UNWRA notified Israel that if its attacks on Gaza continue to spur more waves of displaced it will be unable to accommodate the IDPs and that it expects Israel, as an occupying power, to provide them with the necessary humanitarian aid. Over 200,000 internally displaced Gazans—10 percent of the population—are currently sheltered in 85 UNRWA schools.

UN officials have made strong statements in response to these latest attacks. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack as unjustifiable and demanded an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui issued a press statement on the situation of children caught in the middle of the conflict. She stressed the need for children to be protected and said that close to 250 children have been killed since 7 July.

Although the Council has habitually issued press statements when UN personnel or institutions have been attacked, at press time there was no indication that a press statement was under consideration. There may be reluctance among Council members to initiate a process which they know will be difficult given the traditional US position on this issue. It is clear following the sequence of events that led to the Council’s adoption of a presidential statement 21 days after the Israeli offensive began, that only when the US signals its willingness to agree to an outcome will there be any Council action. It seems that some Council members see a press statement at this stage as a weaker response than Monday’s presidential statement, and would like to keep a strong focus on the possible adoption of a resolution in the near future.

It has quickly become apparent that the Council’s adoption of a presidential statement (which while formal, is not legally binding) has done little to change the situation on the ground. The presidential statement was negotiated between Jordan and the US before being circulated to the wider membership for quick adoption at midnight on 28 July. Reactions from both Israel and Palestine indicate that both were displeased with the substance of the presidential statement and that there had been little involvement of interested parties like the Arab League. The presidential statement had called for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire. All such calls thus far have met with complete failure. Earlier today, Israel unilaterally declared a four hour humanitarian ceasefire between 3 and 7 pm. The Israeli army said that the humanitarian pause would not apply to the areas where soldiers are currently operating. The halt was rejected by Hamas because it did not extend to all of Gaza. Also today, the head of Hamas’ military wing, Mohammed Deif, reiterated the group’s stance that it would not accept interim solutions and that it would not agree to a ceasefire without the end of the Israeli military campaign and the lifting of the blockade on Gaza. While it is clear that a ceasefire that does not take into account the demands of both parties will not hold, the Council has not addressed this issue in any coherent manner.

The presidential statement also emphasised that civilian and humanitarian facilities, including those of the UN, must be respected and protected—a call which has been openly flouted. Last week Council members had been negotiating a draft resolution tabled by Jordan on behalf of the Arab Group that contains an operational paragraph urging member states to ensure that attacks on UNRWA schools—which contravene international humanitarian law—are investigated and those responsible are duly prosecuted. However, this language was not included in the presidential statement due to the absence of consensus.

It is still unclear if the Council will now react more strongly given that the situation has continued to deteriorate. While Council members have not ruled out the possibility of a resolution, there appears to be a question about the timing. Some believe that it might be more effective following a ceasefire agreement reached outside the Council. A number of other members have indicated that any such resolution would need to do more than call for a return to the status quo in Gaza and would need to address the Israeli siege.

In recent days, Israeli officials have openly and harshly criticised the mediation efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry, and a senior US official said the White House believes that the criticism was fueled by Netanyahu’s office. The willingness of the US to agree to the 28 July presidential statement may be a signal of growing fatigue in Washington at the continually escalating violence and has been interpreted by some analysts as more significant in its signal to Israel versus any real attempt to give the Council a role in arranging a ceasefire. It remains to be seen whether the US, in the absence of any major breakthroughs on the ground, would acquiesce to the Council’s adoption of a binding resolution.

Reaching agreement on a ceasefire would also be constrained by the wide gap between Israeli and Hamas perceptions of the requisite conditions for a ceasefire. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that Israel needs to be prepared for a “protracted campaign” and that troops would not leave Gaza until they had destroyed Hamas’s tunnel network and deprived Hamas of its rocket cache. Hamas, on the other hand, has made clear that any truce must include wider conditions addressing Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the re-release of Palestinian prisoners, who were released in 2011 as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange with Israel, as well as those prisoners released as part of the terms of the recent US-brokered peace talks but were since rearrested.

Many Council members are aware that the deteriorating situation requires a stronger Council response but, as has been the case with a number of recent situations, the Council outcomes so far have focused on specific aspects of a situation. Given that the US has a record of blocking nearly all Council action that might constrain Israel’s options—it has in the past cast 42 vetoes in order to do so—reaching agreement on a resolution based on the current draft would certainly prove difficult and would likely entail arduous negotiation at capital level. The fact that US President Barack Obama has openly and repeatedly called for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire does not necessarily translate into support for any immediate Council action. While Council members are saying that there is a need to go beyond the status quo and deal with the crisis in a more comprehensive manner, it is unclear if they are willing to address the core issues of the current military confrontation between Israel and Hamas, including the Israeli blockade of Gaza in a binding resolution.

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posted on TUE 29 JUL 2014 5:36 PM
First Public Wrap-up Session Since 2005

On 30 July, the Security Council will hold a “wrap-up session” for the month of July during which Rwanda held the Council presidency. The meeting will be held under the agenda item “Implementation of Note S/2010/ 507 (Wrap-up Session)” with the aim of enhancing the efficiency and transparency of the Council’s work. It will also allow Council members to exchange views on situations addressed during the month as well as on its working methods. This will be the first time… Read more »

posted on TUE 29 JUL 2014 5:23 PM
UNAMI Renewal Reflects Need for an Inclusive Government to face ISIS Offensive in Iraq

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posted on TUE 29 JUL 2014 5:05 PM
First Briefing under Resolution 2165 on Cross-Border Humanitarian Access in Syria

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posted on TUE 29 JUL 2014 3:22 PM
Adoption of Resolution Renewing the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus

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posted on MON 28 JUL 2014 6:13 PM
Adoption of a Presidential Statement on Gaza

At 12 am this morning (28 July), the Security Council held an urgent meeting to adopt its first formal outcome on the situation in Israel/Palestine—a presidential statement—since the onset of the latest outbreak of violence in Gaza.… Read more »

posted on FRI 25 JUL 2014 3:57 PM
Adoption of a Resolution on Regional Partnerships in Peacekeeping

On Monday (28 July), the Security Council is scheduled to hold an open debate on “UN Peacekeeping: regional partnershipsand its evolution” with the Secretary-General expected to brief and AU and EU representatives likely to participate. A resolution is expected to be adopted during the debate. Council members have had two rounds of negotiations on the draft text which was circulated by Rwanda on 16 July and put in blue today.… Read more »

posted on FRI 25 JUL 2014 3:31 PM
Iraq and Syria:Presidential Statement on Illicit Oil Trade Financing Terrorism

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posted on THU 24 JUL 2014 3:44 PM
Arria-Formula Meeting with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria

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posted on MON 21 JUL 2014 6:44 PM
Middle East Debate to Focus on Situation in Gaza

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