What's In Blue

The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Briefing and Consultations

This afternoon (24 April), following the vote on a draft resolution on weapons of mass destruction in outer space, the Security Council will hold a briefing, followed by closed consultations, on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator (SHRC) for Gaza Sigrid Kaag is expected to brief.

Following the 7 October 2023 large-scale attacks against Israel led by Hamas, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have carried out massive airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. On 27 October 2023, the IDF also launched a ground operation initially focused on northern Gaza and later extended to most other areas of the Gaza Strip. Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that, as at 22 April, at least 34,151 Palestinians had been killed. Large areas of Gaza have been bombed to the ground, with up to 1.7 million people estimated to be displaced across the Gaza Strip, most of them multiple times. Figures provided by Israeli authorities cited by OCHA indicate that more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals have been killed in Israel, the vast majority on 7 October 2023. As at 17 April, an estimated 133 Israelis and foreign nationals remain captive in Gaza. (For more background, see the brief on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” in our April 2024 Monthly Forecast.)

The SHRC for Gaza was initiated by Security Council resolution 2720, which was adopted on 22 December 2023 with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (Russia and the US). Resolution 2720 requested that the Secretary-General appoint a SHRC responsible for “facilitating, coordinating, monitoring, and verifying in Gaza, as appropriate, the humanitarian nature of all humanitarian relief consignments” that are provided to Gaza through states which are not parties to the conflict.

The resolution requested the SHRC, who was appointed on 26 December 2023 and began her assignment on 8 January, to provide an initial report on her work to the Security Council within 20 days and thereafter every 90 days until 30 September. Today will be the first time that Kaag briefs the Security Council in the open chamber. Previously, she briefed in closed consultations on 30 January and 7 March.

Resolution 2720 reaffirmed the conflict parties’ international legal obligations regarding the provision of humanitarian assistance and demanded that they “allow, facilitate and enable the immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to the Palestinian civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip”. Resolution 2720 also demanded that the parties “allow and facilitate the use of all available routes to and throughout the entire Gaza Strip, including border crossings” for the provision of humanitarian assistance.

Today, Council members may seek an update from Kaag about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip with a particular focus on humanitarian access and humanitarian aid deliveries. Briefing the Security Council at the 18 April open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Secretary-General António Guterres spoke of “severe limitations imposed by the Israeli authorities on the delivery of humanitarian aid to people in Gaza, who are facing widespread starvation”. Although Guterres said that there have been “some examples of limited progress”—such as the authorisation on 14, 15 and 16 April of a total of 25 aid trucks to use the Erez crossing into northern Gaza for the first time in over six months—he stressed that “apparent progress in one area is often cancelled out by delays and restrictions elsewhere”, resulting in limited, “sometimes nil”, impact.

Today, Kaag might note that 316 humanitarian aid trucks entered the Gaza Strip on 22 April from the Rafah and Kerem Shalom border crossings, marking the highest number of trucks entering Gaza since the start of the war. At the same time, she is likely to observe that this remains significantly below the minimum amount required, which is generally estimated to be 500 trucks per day. (According to a recent update by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) covering information until 21 April, an average of 186 aid trucks have crossed into Gaza since the beginning of April.)

Resolution 2720 also requested the SHRC to establish a UN mechanism for accelerating humanitarian consignments to the Gaza Strip through states which are not party to the conflict. Tomorrow, Kaag is expected to provide an update on the establishment of the mechanism mandated by resolution 2720 and may provide details about its expected functioning.

Council members are expected to express concern at the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. Members are likely to refer to the risk of famine in Gaza and underscore the importance for UN and humanitarian organisations to be granted safe and unhindered access. Members are also likely to reiterate their demands for a ceasefire and the release of all hostages and may call for the full implementation of the resolutions adopted by the Security Council on the war.

Council Members welcomed Kaag’s appointment in 30 January press elements, and “reiterated their full support” for her work in an 11 April press statement on “Humanitarian Workers and Threat of Famine in Gaza”. Today, Council members may restate their support for Kaag’s work and may urge the conflict parties to cooperate with the SHRC in order to guarantee the full implementation of her mandate.

Some Council members and Kaag may refer to measures for the delivery of humanitarian aid via air drops and sea channels. In line with recent messaging from UN officials on this issue, Kaag is likely to stress that these measures do not represent an adequate substitute for the delivery of aid at scale via land routes. Today, Kaag may also update members on her recent travels and official meetings. According to an 18 April update by Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric, Kaag recently concluded a visit to the Gaza Strip during which she travelled to Khan Younis where she visited two healthcare facilities and held meetings with medical personnel. Following her visit to Gaza, Kaag travelled to Tel Aviv where she held a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.

Members may also seek an update from Kaag about any plans being prepared regarding early recovery and reconstruction in Gaza. According to a 29 March report by the World Bank, the EU and the UN, by the end of January the estimated cost of direct damage to built infrastructure in the Gaza Strip was about USD 18.5 billion. The report describes the shock to Gaza’s economy as “one of the largest observed in recent economic history”, with most of the population being pushed into multidimensional poverty. The report presents recommendations on possible early recovery actions, including clearing rubble and debris, conducting mine action, and restoring social services, such as health, education and cash support.

Today, several Council members are likely to express concern at the possibility of an Israeli offensive targeting Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city. In a 23 April statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk “decried a series of Israeli strikes on Rafah in the past few days that killed mostly children and women”. He reiterated his previous warning against “a full-scale incursion on an area where 1.2 million civilians have been forcibly cornered”, adding that “[s]uch an operation would lead to further breaches of international humanitarian law and international human rights law”.

Although not an expected focus of today’s meeting, some Council members might refer to recent developments concerning UNRWA. On 20 April, the report of the independent review led by former French Minister of Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna on how UNRWA upholds neutrality principles was issued. The report says that UNRWA “has established a significant number of mechanisms and procedures to ensure compliance with the humanitarian principles, with emphasis on the principle of neutrality”, noting that UNRWA “possesses a more developed approach to neutrality” than similar UN and NGO entities. At the same time, the report notes that “[d]espite this robust framework, neutrality-related issues persist”, including regarding “instances of staff publicly expressing political views” and of “host-country textbooks with problematic content being used in some UNRWA schools”. UNRWA has welcomed the report and its recommendations, and announced that it is developing an action plan to take the report’s recommendations forward. The review led by Colonna is separate from the investigation by the Office of Internal Oversight Service into allegations by Israel that twelve UNRWA employees played a role in the 7 October 2023 attacks. (For more, see our 16 April What’s in Blue story.)

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