The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told the Security Council today that he is gravely concerned over the violence and continuing clashes in and around the holy sites of the Old City of Jerusalem, and urged all leaders to ensure that visitors and worshippers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area.
Clashes of varying intensity have been ongoing for three days now, and follow sweeping restrictions on entry into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound which Israel applied beginning on 26 August. Since then, the Government has decreed an entry ban to the compound and the Temple Mount area to members of Muslim and Jewish groups considered to be extremist.
“As the Middle East faces a vicious tide of terror and extremism, such serious provocations have the potential to ignite violence well beyond the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem,” Nickolay Mladenov told the Council, speaking via video conference from Jerusalem.
“I urge all political, community and religious leaders to ensure that visitors and worshippers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area,” he continued, stressing that all sides have a responsibility to refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric.
“Against this backdrop, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has left an indelible scar on the people and landscape of this region,” the envoy underlined. “Frustration, fear and violence have continued to spiral, undermining belief in finding a way out of the impasse.”
He informed the 15-member body that over the last three months, the Middle East Quartet [comprising the European Union, Russia, the United States and the UN] has actively consulted with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the League of Arab States, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and key international partners on how to preserve the two-State solution and establish conditions for the parties to return to meaningful negotiations.
“All of our discussions have highlighted the region’s determination to play a constructive role in resolving the conflict,” Mr. Mladenov noted. “But the message from all could not be more clear: patience is running out.”
“A comprehensive approach must be advanced, consisting of bold, concrete actions on the ground, in the region and internationally. It will necessitate significant policy shifts by Israel as well as an unflinching commitment on the Palestinian side to achieving genuine national unity,” he added.
However, despite efforts by Israel in recent months to ease some restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza, Mr. Mladenov described the situation on the ground as “precarious.”
This past month, clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank continued, injuring one Palestinian and four Israelis. The UN reported that 115 Palestinians were injured by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) while six members of the Israeli security forces were injured by Palestinians. In the West Bank, Israeli security forces arrested 282 Palestinians.
“Also deeply troubling is the continuing Israeli policy of settlement construction and demolishing of Palestinian-owned structures in Area C of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” Mr. Mladenov continued. “I call upon Israel to freeze demolitions, to reverse ‘relocation’ plans and – critically – to expedite approval of outstanding planning submissions and enable community-led planning processes.”
He recalled that since his last briefing, some 50 Palestinian structures have been demolished. “I am alarmed that the calendar month of August saw the highest number of demolitions since June 2010, with 142 Palestinian-owned structures demolished and over 200 Palestinians displaced.”
Meanwhile, in Gaza, power outages have reportedly been averaging 12 to 16 hours per day, and 40,000 public sector employees have not received full salaries for one year. On a more positive note, Mr. Mladenov said the reconstruction of Gaza following last year’s conflict in the enclave is picking up speed, with some 94,000 homeowners having procured construction material to repair their homes.
The envoy said the UN will continue to support the efforts of the legitimate Palestinian institutions and to reach out to all factions in order to ensure that the humanitarian, social and economic challenges of Gaza are addressed.