The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Closed Consultations
This afternoon (27 January), following the closed consultations on Afghanistan, Security Council members will convene for closed consultations on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. China, France, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) requested the meeting to discuss the recent developments in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland is the expected briefer.
This will be the third time this month that Council members will have met on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. On 5 January, Council members held an open briefing requested by China, France, Malta, and the UAE following the 3 January visit to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site by Israeli National Security Minister and leader of the far-right Otzmah Yehudit party Itamar Ben-Gvir. On 18 January, the Security Council held its regular quarterly open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. (For background, see our 4 January and 17 January What’s In Blue stories.)
Today, Council members are likely to seek an update from Wennesland on the 26 January Israel Defense Forces (IDF) raid in the Jenin refugee camp and subsequent developments. Nine Palestinians were killed during the raid, in what several media outlets, including the BBC, have identified as “the most deadly Israeli raid into [the] Jenin refugee camp in nearly two decades”. The IDF described the raid as a “counterterrorism operation to apprehend an Islamic Jihad terror squad” involved in planning and carrying out “multiple major terrorist attacks” against Israelis. Media reports citing the Palestinian Health Ministry identified two of the Palestinians killed, including a 61-year-old woman, as civilian victims, while seven of the dead were claimed by Palestinian armed groups. At least 20 Palestinians were wounded, some of whom are reported to be in critical condition. Extensive damage to buildings and vehicles was also reported.
In response to the raid, and citing “the repeated aggression against [its] people and the undermining of signed agreements, including [regarding] security”, the Palestinian Authority announced that it is suspending security coordination with Israel. In a 26 January letter to the Security Council, the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the UN, Riyad Mansour, referred to the raid as “a large-scale military invasion of the Jenin refugee camp” and said that medical care to Palestinians wounded during the incident “was repeatedly obstructed and delayed by the IOF [Israeli occupying forces], including shooting at ambulances and medical personnel”. Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kailah accused the IDF of firing gas bombs towards the paediatric ward of Jenin Government Hospital. In separate tweets on 26 January, the World Health Organization (WHO) expressed “solidarity with the health workers in Jenin” and called for the protection of heath care and unhindered access to essential health services.
Later the same day, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that a Palestinian had died of his injuries after being shot by Israeli security forces during clashes at a protest against the Jenin raid in the West Bank town of Al-Ram. According to several media sources, including the Associated Press and Palestinian news agency WAFA, 30 Palestinians have been killed in 2023 thus far.
After the raid, Wennesland issued a statement stressing the importance of reducing tensions and preventing further loss of life. He urged Israeli and Palestinian authorities to restore calm, de-escalate tensions and avoid further conflict, a message that he may again underscore at today’s consultations. In a 27 January statement, three special rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council called on the international community not to “tolerate what appears to reflect Israel’s deliberate policy and practice of using lethal force without regard for limits set by international law”.
Today, members are likely to express concern at the increasingly violent situation in the West Bank and the risk of further escalation. At the 18 January open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Wennesland said that “[s]ecurity forces must exercise maximum restraint and use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life”. Switzerland said that it expected “all parties to take the necessary measures to protect civilians and non-combatants” and called for investigating “allegations of the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli security forces”. The UK said that “Israel must exercise maximum restraint in the use of live fire when protecting its legitimate security interests” and China stressed that it stands “against the excessive use of force by security forces”. At today’s meeting, these and other members may reiterate similar messages. Members may also emphasise the importance of protecting civilians and adhering to international humanitarian law.
Members are likely to seek information about efforts underway by the UN and other actors to de-escalate tensions, including with the objective of avoiding an escalation in Gaza. According to media reports, following the raid in Jenin, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad spokesperson said that it was “impossible to let what happened in Jenin this morning pass quietly”, adding that “Israel bears full responsibility” for “all the developments and escalation”. A Hamas official also reportedly said that “the response of the resistance forces will not be late in coming”.
Several rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel late on 26 January and early today (27 January). In response, the IDF carried out airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza, including what it described as an “underground rockets manufacturing site”. No casualties were reported following these incidents. According to a report by Al Jazeera, a situation of “cautious calm” had returned to Gaza by this morning.
A Council product is not expected in connection with today’s meeting. Council members are likely to continue to follow closely the situation in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.
From 29 to 31 January, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to Egypt, Israel, and the West Bank. According to a statement by US Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price, Blinken will stress to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders “the urgent need for the parties to take steps to deescalate tensions”. He will also “discuss the importance of upholding the historic status quo” at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site in Jerusalem, in “words and in actions”.