Vassily Nebenzia: “When countries of the region take the situation into their own hands and are not subjected to pressure of extra-regional players, they make solid progress towards a stabilization in the Middle East”

12:00 01.11.2023 •

Photo: Permanent mission of the Russian Federation to the UN

Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia (photo) at UN Security Council briefing on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. Main points:

- The time has come to call things by their proper names: a humanitarian disaster of biblical scale is unfolding in the occupied Palestinian territory – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. According to incoming information, the death toll in the enclave has passed 8,000 people, half of whom are children, women and the elderly. More than 2,000 people remain under the rubble, half of them also children. More than 21,000 people have been injured. The number of internally displaced persons in Gaza has reached 1.6 million. In UNRWA camps alone, 640,000 Palestinians have found refuge. In the West Bank, more than 100 people have been killed and 3,000 thousand injured.

- This terrible statistic is growing by the hour. We express our gratitude to all humanitarians "on the ground" who are working at their limits in the face of a catastrophic shortage of basic supplies, including medical, and with extremely high risks to life. The scale of losses on the part of UN agencies is shocking: 64 staff members killed, 22 injured and 42 UNRWA facilities destroyed. We pay tribute to the UN personnel who keep working in unthinkable conditions and those who paid the ultimate price. According to media reports, two UNIFIL peacekeepers were wounded in an Israeli shelling of the Blue Line. Al-Quds, the largest hospital in Gaza has been under a threat of attack by the IDF with Israeli aviation hitting sites that are but 50 meters away from the hospital, which makes immediate evacuation absolutely necessary. Nearly 640,000 internally displaced persons have taken refuge in 150 UNRWA facilities across the Gaza Strip. As a result of the bombing, 9 hospitals have been completely knocked out of service and the remaining ones are facing severe shortages of medicines.

- The blockade of the Gaza Strip has become essentially all encompassing. The enclave has been disconnected from Internet and cell phone service and is simply cut off from the rest of the world. No one knows for sure what is happening there. Such a blockade not only sows more panic among civilians. It directly undermines the work of medical and rescue services, which will lead to further civilian casualties. For the same reason, the passage of a humanitarian convoy through the Rafah checkpoint on 28 October could not be agreed upon. We strongly condemn such actions, especially in a situation where after the disruption of communications, the enclave has faced the most powerful airstrikes since the beginning of the escalation.

- In the face of active hostilities, the humanitarian response remains but nominal. Only 94 trucks from Egypt have passed through Rafah crossing, which is the only crossing, since October 21, and Israel reportedly obstructs even those meagre deliveries. As a result, there is a severe shortage of everything – water, fuel, food, medicine – and the people are frightened and desperate.

- The Israeli authorities call their actions in various ways – expanding operations or preparing a firm base. But that is not the point. The point is that, despite the unequivocal reaction in the world, West Jerusalem has started to implement its plans to "clean up" the enclave.

- What we heard in response was the assessments of the Israeli Foreign Minister's, who said, "we reject outright the UN General Assembly despicable call for a cease-fire". The comments by the Permanent Representative of Israel that the United Nations has lost its legitimacy did not go unnoticed either. Truly shocking are statements (that were widely circulated in the media) by a number of representatives in the Knesset, who said there is "no symmetry" in Israel's response and that "the children in Gaza brought this on themselves".

- Unfortunately, what clearly follows from this is that Israel is blatantly ignoring the views of the vast majority of UN members, including many Western nations, on the need to end the violence.

- This ugly situation was brought about by the fact that, because of the United States position, the Security Council has been virtually paralyzed and has not yet been able to adopt a resolution demanding an urgent ceasefire. We have come out with such initiatives twice, but Washington and West Jerusalem have quite different plans: to exterminate the population of Gaza or "oust" it from the Strip, and assimilate the rest of the Palestinian population into Israel in order to solve the Palestinian problem.

- The time for half-measures and "half-hearted" elliptical calls is over. No humanitarian pause will help. One cannot provide humanitarian aid in the midst of hostilities on the ground. I hope everyone here understands that. Casualties count among humanitarian workers is already in the dozens, ambulances have been destroyed by bombs, and the remaining cannot operate due to a lack of fuel. Well-meant humanitarian passages are certainly important, but them alone will not stop the war.

- The priority task of the international community today is to stop the bloodshed, minimize the damage to the civilian population and move the situation to a political and diplomatic track. It is necessary to consolidate collective steps aimed at restarting a full-fledged negotiation process between Israelis and Palestinians in order to implement the UN-approved two-state formula. This solution should be the basis for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, coexisting in peace and security with Israel.

- There is a question I would like to ask to the US representative. Why are you against a ceasefire? Does this mean that the United States, a permanent member of the Security Council, supports the doctrine of "mighty vengeance" in Gaza? Where is your sympathy for civilians, which you so eloquently express at every meeting of the Council on Ukraine? And this is despite the fact that the lives of civilians in Ukraine are nowhere near such risks as those of the Palestinians in Gaza. Or do you think only of those on the European continent, while not caring for Palestinian lives?

- Same question to the other Western delegations on the Council who shamefully abstained at the vote on Russia-proposed draft resolutions that provided a call for a ceasefire. Colleagues, your double standards are more than obvious. The people of your own countries, where mass demonstrations in support of the Palestinians are taking place, are already demanding accountability for this double-dealing.

- In this situation, Russia is making intensive efforts for de-escalation on the ground, aimed at resolving the crisis as soon as possible. We have sent an unequivocal message to all parties involved: there must be an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian corridors must be secured in order to provide urgent assistance to all those in need.

- President Putin has been very clear: we resolutely reject and condemn any terrorist acts. We extend condolences to all those who have lost their loved ones in Israel, Palestine and other countries. But while we condemn terrorism and hostage-taking and demand an unconditional release of hostages, we strongly disagree that a response to terrorism can violate the norms of international humanitarian law, i.a. with regard to indiscriminate use of force against civilian infrastructure where civilians are known to be present.

- Apart from the urgent tasks of putting an end to this spiral of violence, we also need to agree immediately on a strategy for collective action towards a political settlement of the conflict. The Quartet of international mediators used to have this task of promoting a political settlement. However, the United States has done everything to undermine this effective instrument.

- What’s on the radar now is the formation of a collective mediation mechanism where regional states would be assigned a meaningful role. Positive trends that had emerged in the Middle East prior to the recent aggravation over Gaza eloquently testified to that. I am speaking of Saudi-Iranian normalization, the reintegration of Syria into the League of Arab States, and the gradual improvement of Syria-Türkiye relations. All this proves that when countries of the region take the situation into their own hands and are not subjected to pressure of extra-regional players, they make solid progress towards a stabilization in the Middle East.


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