Middle East on brink of 'dangerous abyss', warns UN envoy

International community has for decades 'failed collectively' to resolve Israeli-Palestinian conflict

An Israeli tank at an undisclosed location along the border with the Gaza Strip. AFP
Powered by automated translation

The UN's Middle East peace process envoy warned the Security Council on Wednesday of the growing risks of an expansion to the Israel-Gaza conflict.

“I fear that we are at the brink of a deep and dangerous abyss that could change the trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if not of the Middle East as a whole,” Tor Wennesland said.

Speaking by video, Mr Wennesland told the 15-member Security Council that after more than a century of conflict and over 50 years of occupation, the international community has “failed, collectively, to bring the parties to a just, sustainable political resolution”.

The UN’s humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, meanwhile called for a “desperately” needed humanitarian ceasefire that would “go a long way to easing the epic human suffering”.

Expressing his “horror and despair” at the Israeli strike on the Al Ahli Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, which Israel has denied, Mr Griffiths said the hospital was one of 20 in northern Gaza that were told by the Israeli military that civilians should leave.

But Mr Griffiths said fleeing was impossible for many who were in critical condition. A lack of ambulances and staff also slowed departures.

The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said that while Washington continues to collect information, “its current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts, and open-source information, is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday”.

President Joe Biden “has made clear … that we stand unequivocally for the protection of civilian life during conflict".

The hospital strike killed about 500 people, according to Gaza's Hamas-controlled Health Ministry.

Hamas said after Tuesday's explosion that the cause was an Israeli air strike, while Israel blamed the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad for an errant rocket.

“Killing more Palestinians will never make Israel more secure,” Palestine’s UN envoy Riyad Mansour said.

"Seventy-five years of experience should have been proof enough for those who want to learn."

Egypt’s UN ambassador, Osama Mahmoud, told reporters after the session, that a summit will take place Saturday in Cairo as scheduled with regional leaders and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The five permanent Security Council nations have also been invited, he said.

Updated: October 19, 2023, 5:59 AM