Palestinian and Israeli diplomats wage rhetorical war at UN

As rockets fly across Israel and Gaza, verbal salvos are hurled around UN headquarters

The United Nations headquarters in New York. (AFP/File)
The United Nations headquarters in New York. (AFP/File)

As Israeli forces mobilised on the Gaza border for a potential ground assault on Thursday, Palestinian and Israeli diplomats were waging a rhetorical battle at UN headquarters in New York ahead of the first public Security Council meeting on the crisis.

Israel’s UN ambassador Gilad Erdan and his Palestinian counterpart Riyad Mansour have written widely shared letters condemning the actions of the other side. Several council members have called for the body to hold a third emergency meeting on the crisis, which could happen as soon as Friday and would be the first held in public.

In a letter to council members and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Israel’s Mr Erdan condemned the Gaza militant group Hamas for launching hundreds of “murderous” and “indiscriminate” rockets into Israeli towns and cities.

“It is clear that Hamas premeditated this escalation in violence and terrorism and is happy to pay the price of casualties on both sides in order to strengthen itself politically," the Israeli envoy wrote on Thursday.

In his letter, Palestinian envoy Mr Mansour on Wednesday accused Israel of “unleashing all means of lethal military aggression against the defenceless Palestinian civilian population” and urged the council to take action.

The arguments echo comments made by senior officials in Ramallah and Jerusalem and reflect long-standing views about Israel’s right to defend itself from militants and the plight of Palestinians under a superior occupying force.

The council has met privately on the crisis twice this week. The US, Israel’s ally on the council, has blocked the release of a statement drafted by other members aimed at reducing tensions, saying it would be “counterproductive” at this stage.

In a sign of frustration at the council’s inertia, four of its European members — France, Norway, Estonia and Ireland — issued their own joint statement on Wednesday, criticising rocket launching by Hamas and other militants but also pointing a finger at Israel.

“The large numbers of civilian casualties, including children, from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, and of Israeli fatalities from rockets launched from Gaza, are both worrying and unacceptable,” the statement said.

The US, a permanent veto-wielding council member, has traditionally shielded Israel from criticism at the UN, meaning any serious criticism of Israeli forces and Palestinian suffering is not likely from the 15-nation body.

For his part, Mr Guterres has been careful to voice support for Israel's right to defend itself while calling for the protection of all civilians, including Palestinians.

Renewed rocket fire and rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab towns have fuelled growing fears that deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians could descend into full-scale war.

The most intense hostilities in seven years have killed at least 83 Palestinians in Gaza, including 17 children, and seven in Israel, including a soldier, two children and one Indian national, since Monday.

Published: May 13, 2021 07:38 PM

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