Members of the Security Council,
As you know, today’s Great Return March near the Gaza fence has unfortunately resulted in violence. Based on the information at our disposal, around 30,000 people participated in and around the march at various locations in Gaza. Soon after the demonstration started, the situation deteriorated in several locations. Late afternoon local time the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza confirmed that at least fifteen Palestinians had been killed, and more than 1,000 had been injured, including by tear gas suffocation.
Several of the casualties were reportedly the result of live ammunition used by the Israeli Security Forces during the march, but also following armed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, including the shelling of a Hamas observation point. Reports indicate that most of the demonstrators stayed well away from the border fence and did not engage in violence.
However, there are also reports that some protestors engaged in stone-throwing and violent behavior, some reportedly carrying weapons.
According to Israeli Security Forces’ reports, militants tried to get through the fence in an attempt to plant explosives. Palestinians reportedly also sent a nine year old girl across the fence, but Israeli troops were able to send her safely back. Hamas leaders reportedly also were present at some of the gatherings.
Prior to the march, Israel had increased its forces along the border, deploying snipers, special units and drones, and sent out warnings that it would act to prevent any breach of the border fence or violation of Israel’s sovereignty. Violence also broke out in the West Bank with an estimated 900 Palestinians demonstrating, mostly in central West Bank cities such as Ramallah and Hebron. According to the Red Crescent, 27 Palestinians were wounded during clashes near Nablus.
In his Security Council briefing earlier this week, Special Coordinator Mladenov noted the developing Palestinian plans for today’s march and called on all to exercise restraint and to take the necessary steps to avoid violent escalation. In statements to the media he reiterated these calls and emphasized the need to ensure that civilians, particularly children, should not be put in harms way.
UNSCO has also engaged with the Israeli Defence Forces and Palestinian factions, particularly in Gaza, to reinforce the same message. In order to ensure the safety and security of UN personnel, the UN Department for Safety and Security issued repeated security advisories to all staff. Throughout the day, UNSCO has been in contact with both Palestinian and Israeli security forces and will continue do so, as more demonstrations are expected throughout the next six weeks. There is fear that the situation might deteriorate in these next days.
We will continue to underline that it is imperative that civilians, in particular children, not be targeted and that all actors refrain from putting children at risk at any time. Israel must uphold its responsibilities under international human rights law and humanitarian law. Lethal force should only be used as a last resort, with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities. We will therefore also continue to urge Israeli security forces to exercise maximum restraint to avoid casualties.
The developments in Gaza today are again a painful reminder of the consequences of a missing peace between Israel and Palestine and the need to step up our efforts in support of a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
As the Secretary-General and the Special Coordinator have repeatedly reminded this Council, the UN strongly urges Israelis, Palestinians and the international community to take concrete measures that will reverse the current course of the conflict and advance the goal of a just and sustainable peace based on the two-state solution.