The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Closed Consultations on the Situation in Gaza
This afternoon (6 November), Security Council members will convene for closed consultations on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) called for the meeting to discuss the worsening situation in Gaza and Israel’s recent airstrikes on the Jabalia refugee camp and on a convoy of ambulances near Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths and Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland are the expected briefers.
This will be the sixth time that Council members have convened to discuss the crisis in Israel and Gaza 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, Israeli forces began their ground operation inside Gaza.
According to figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA, at least 195 Palestinians were killed and about 800 injured as a result of Israeli airstrikes on the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza on 31 October and 1 November. On 2 November, a school run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in the refugee camp which was sheltering internally displaced people (IDPs) was hit and “as a result, at least 20 people were reportedly killed and five were injured”. On 4 November, OCHA reported that, according to Palestinian officials in Gaza, at least 70 Palestinians were killed and 60 injured during the preceding 24 hours in separate airstrikes which hit two schools sheltering IDPs in the Jabalia refugee camp.
Israeli authorities have said that the airstrikes on 31 October and 1 November resulted in the deaths of two senior Hamas commanders—a claim that Hamas has denied—and accused Hamas of deliberately building “terror infrastructure under, around and within civilian buildings”. On 1 November, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed “serious concerns” that the Israeli airstrikes on the Jabalia refugee camp “could amount to war crimes” given the high number of civilian casualties and the scale of destruction. On 2 November, seven Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council issued a statement calling the airstrikes a “brazen violation of international law” and warning that “[t]ime is running out to prevent genocide and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza”.
According to OCHA, on 3 November, a convoy of ambulances evacuating patients from Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City that was headed towards the Rafah border crossing with Egypt was struck three times in the vicinity of the hospital, leading to the death of at least 13 people. One of the targeted locations was just a couple of metres away from the hospital’s gate. According to a statement by the IDF cited in media reports, the IDF struck an ambulance it had identified “as being used by a Hamas terrorist cell”, a claim that Hamas officials have denied. The IDF statement added that they have information which allegedly “demonstrates that Hamas’ method of operation is to transfer terror operatives and weapons in ambulances”. In a 3 November statement, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that he was “horrified” by the attack and renewed his calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, noting that “for nearly one month, civilians in Gaza, including children and women, have been besieged, denied aid, killed, and bombed out of their homes”.
According to figures provided by Israeli authorities and cited by OCHA, as at 5 November, approximately 1,400 Israeli and foreign nationals had been killed in Israel since the start of the escalation, the vast majority during the 7 October Hamas-led attacks. Over 240 hostages are reported to have been taken into the Gaza Strip during the attacks. Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that more than 9,700 Palestinians have been killed in connection with the airstrikes in Gaza. Entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed, and approximately 2,260 people have been reported missing, most of whom are presumed to be trapped under rubble. In the West Bank, OCHA reports that since 7 October, 141 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces and eight by Israeli settlers, while two Israelis have been killed by Palestinians.
At today’s meeting, Griffiths is expected to provide an update about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. He may echo some key messages from a 5 November statement he issued together with the other principals of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, the highest-level humanitarian coordination forum of the UN system. The statement calls for:
- the parties to the conflict to respect all their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law;
- the immediate and unconditional release of all civilians held hostage;
- the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, shelters, and schools;
- more aid, including “food, water, medicine and of course fuel”, to enter Gaza and reach people in need; and
- an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
At today’s meeting, Council members are expected to underscore the importance of respecting international humanitarian law and protecting civilians. The briefers and Council members are likely to express concern at the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza and stress the need to protect health facilities as well as medical and humanitarian personnel. Members may call for unhindered humanitarian access and for food, water, and fuel to reach all those in need in Gaza. While some members may say that they recognise Israel’s right to defend itself, they are also likely to stress that Israel’s response must adhere to the international humanitarian law principles of distinction, precaution, and proportionality. Members are likely to reiterate their condemnation of the 7 October Hamas-led attacks and call for the immediate and unconditional release of all abducted persons held in Gaza.
Today’s meeting follows a period of intense, yet inconclusive, Council engagement on the escalation over the past month. In October, the Council voted on four draft resolutions on the crisis, all of which failed to be adopted. (For background, see our 16 and 25 October What’s in Blue stories.) Following the 25 October failure of competing draft resolutions put forward by the US and Russia, Ambassador Vanessa Frazier (Malta) announced that the ten elected Council members (E10) would work on a fifth draft resolution. At the time of writing, the E10 members were apparently still consulting on how to bridge the persisting divisions among Council members, including regarding whether the Council should call for measures such as a ceasefire or humanitarian pauses.
Several Council members—including China, Mozambique, Russia, and the UAE—have called for a ceasefire. Maintaining that a ceasefire would “leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on October 7th”, the US has opposed any such calls, and has only recently shifted its stance towards humanitarian pauses after previously casting the sole veto on a draft resolution proposed by Brazil that called for this measure. Although Russia had abstained on the Brazilian draft resolution, it has since apparently shifted its position on humanitarian pauses, stating at the 30 October briefing on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” that “[n]o humanitarian pause will help” and that “humanitarian passages are certainly important, but them alone will not stop the war”.
The Observer State of Palestine and several members of the Arab Group at the UN have recently sharply criticised calls for measures stopping short of a ceasefire, such as humanitarian pauses. At a 3 November briefing at the UN headquarters by OCHA, the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the UN, Riyad Mansour, said that calling for a ceasefire should be “the first order of the day”, while humanitarian pauses would mean that Israel “continue[s] killing the Palestinians [giving them a] few hours every now and then” to allow aid to enter Gaza. Israel has opposed calls for both a ceasefire and humanitarian pauses, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating on 3 November that Israel rejects “a temporary ceasefire that does not include the release of our hostages”.