The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Emergency Open Briefing*
Tomorrow afternoon (30 October), Security Council members will convene for an emergency open briefing on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), later joined by China, requested the meeting to discuss the situation in Gaza. Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Philippe Lazzarini is expected to brief. OCHA’s Director of the Humanitarian Financing and Resource Mobilization Division Lisa Doughten and Executive Director of UNICEF Catherine Russell are also expected to brief.*
Tomorrow’s meeting will be the fifth time that Council members have convened to discuss this agenda item since the 7 October large-scale attacks against Israel led by Hamas, the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in Gaza. Since the attacks, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have carried out massive airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, and on 27 October announced that they were “expanding ground operations” in Gaza. Shortly after the announcement, telephone and internet services were severed across Gaza, with services only returning over a day later. According to a 28 October OCHA update, the preceding 24 hours had “witnessed the most intense Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling since the start of the hostilities”.
Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that as at 28 October, more than 7,700 Palestinians had been killed and over 19,700 wounded in connection with the airstrikes in Gaza. Entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed, and as at 27 October (before the telecommunications shutdown), approximately 1,700 people had been “reported missing and may be trapped or dead under the rubble”.
According to figures provided by Israeli authorities and cited by OCHA, as at 28 October, approximately 1,400 Israeli and foreign nationals had been killed and over 5,400 had been injured in Israel since the start of the escalation, the vast majority during the 7 October Hamas-led attacks. Over 200 hostages are reported to have been taken into the Gaza Strip during the attacks.
Tomorrow, Council members are expected to seek an update from the briefers about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. On 9 October, the Israeli authorities ordered “a full siege” of the Gaza Strip, stopping the provision of power, food, gas, and water. (While Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, the territory has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade for over 16 years.) Only a small fraction of the humanitarian aid needed has been allowed into Gaza via the Rafah crossing, which connects Gaza with Egypt. According to OCHA, 84 trucks carrying water, food, and medical supplies have entered Gaza since 21 October (when the first humanitarian convoy since the start of the crisis entered Gaza), but “entry of desperately needed fuel remains banned by the Israeli authorities”. (Israel has reportedly refused to allow fuel into Gaza saying that “it could aid the Hamas war effort”.) Before the recent escalation, 500 truckloads had entered Gaza every working day, on average.
In a 29 October statement, the Director of UNRWA Affairs in the Gaza Strip, Thomas White, said that the break-in by thousands of people to UNRWA warehouses in Gaza on 28 October to take flour and other basic survival items was “a worrying sign that civil order is starting to break down after three weeks of war and a tight siege on Gaza”. He added that faced with the immense needs, the “current system of convoys is geared to fail” because of the “[v]ery few trucks, slow processes, [and] strict inspections”; supplies that do not match the requirements of UNRWA and other humanitarian organisations; and “mostly the ongoing ban on fuel”.
Tomorrow, the briefers are likely to echo the calls by senior UN officials for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. In a 28 October statement, Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated his “strong appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire”. Guterres noted that while he was encouraged “by what seemed to be a growing consensus in the international community, including the countries supporting Israel, for the need of at least a humanitarian pause”, he was “surprised by an unprecedented escalation of the bombardments and their devastating impacts”. Humanitarian and human rights organisations have also called for an immediate ceasefire.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to underscore the importance of respecting international humanitarian law and protecting civilians. Members are likely to express concern about the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and call for sustained and unhindered humanitarian assistance to civilians. Some members may note that the amount of aid that has reached Gaza does not meet the needs of the civilian population and may stress the importance of the delivery of such key provisions as water, food, medicine, and fuel. Several participants are also expected to stress the need to protect health facilities and medical and humanitarian personnel.
Members are also likely to reiterate their condemnations of the 7 October Hamas-led attacks and call for the immediate and unconditional release of the abducted persons held in Gaza. Some members may also condemn the indiscriminate launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip and might say that Israel has a right to defend itself, while emphasising that Israel’s response must adhere to the international humanitarian law principles of distinction and proportionality.
Council members are likely to express concern at the possible regional spillover of the conflict and call for diplomatic efforts towards de-escalation. Several members may cite the ongoing crisis as evidence of the urgent need for a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the aim of achieving a two-state solution.
Tomorrow, some members may call for humanitarian pauses and/or a humanitarian ceasefire. Several Council members—including China, Russia, and the UAE—have stressed the need for a ceasefire in their remarks during recent Council meetings. On 18 October, these members, together with Brazil, Gabon, Mozambique, and Switzerland, voted in favour of an amendment that would have added a paragraph calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to a draft resolution on the crisis proposed by Brazil. The paragraph failed to be included in the draft because of a lack of requisite votes. At the vote on the whole Brazilian draft resolution, 12 members (Albania, Brazil, China, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland, and the UAE) voted in favour of the text, which called for “humanitarian pauses” to allow unhindered humanitarian access. However, the Brazilian draft failed to be adopted owing to a veto cast by the US.
Washington has opposed calling for a ceasefire and only recently began shifting its stance towards humanitarian pauses. On 27 October, US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said that humanitarian pauses, as “localized, temporary, specific pauses on the battlefield”, are “an idea worth exploring”.
Divisions regarding whether the Council should call for measures such as a ceasefire or humanitarian pauses are among the main reasons why—over three weeks since the start of the escalation—the Security Council has been unable to agree on a product to address the crisis. At the time of writing, Council members were consulting informally on the text of a fifth draft resolution on the situation in Israel and Gaza. This follows the failure of four draft resolutions in the past two weeks, with the most recent votes taking place on 25 October on rival texts put forward by the US and Russia. Following the votes, Ambassador Vanessa Frazier (Malta) announced that the E10 would work on a new draft resolution. She stressed that “as elected members of this Council we also represent the rest of the international community, and we have a duty and an obligation to act”. (For background, see our 7, 12, 16, 23, and 25 October What’s in Blue stories.)
At tomorrow’s meeting, some members may also refer to the resolution adopted on 27 October during the resumed Tenth Emergency Special Session (ESS) of the General Assembly on “Illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. The resolution calls for “an immediate, durable sustainable humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities”. The ESS was resumed after the 18 October Council failure to adopt the Brazilian draft resolution, following which the Office of the President of the General Assembly (PGA) received three letters requesting the session’s resumption. The resolution was adopted with 120 votes in favour, 14 against and 45 abstentions. Among members of the Security Council, Brazil, China, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Ghana, Malta, Mozambique, Russia, Switzerland, and the UAE voted in favour of the resolution, the US voted against, while Albania, Japan, and the UK abstained. An amendment proposed by Canada that would have added language “unequivocally reject[ing] and condemn[ing] the terrorist attacks by Hamas and the taking of hostages” was not adopted as it failed to garner the necessary votes. (The resolution condemns “all acts of violence aimed at Palestinian and Israeli civilians, including all acts of terrorism and indiscriminate attacks”.)
Post-script (30 October, 11:25 am EST): After the story’s publication, OCHA’s Director of the Humanitarian Financing and Resource Mobilization Division Lisa Doughten and Executive Director of UNICEF Catherine Russell were added as briefers at the meeting. The story was amended to reflect the additional briefers.