US envoy joins Erdan in urging council to condemn PIJ

After mediating Gaza ceasefire, Egypt’s envoy castigates Israel at Security Council

As Lapid praises Sissi, Cairo’s envoy to UN laments ‘martyrs’ killed, Israeli ‘desecration of al-Aqsa,’ calls for end to Israeli blockade and says Israel responsible for Strip

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Egyptian Ambassador to the UN Osama Abdel Khalek addresses the Security Council on August 8, 2022. (Screen capture/UN TV)
Egyptian Ambassador to the UN Osama Abdel Khalek addresses the Security Council on August 8, 2022. (Screen capture/UN TV)

Egypt’s ambassador to the United Nations tore into Israel during a Monday speech before the UN Security Council, hours after Jerusalem heaped praise on Cairo for mediating a ceasefire with Palestinian Islamic Jihad that ended a three-day conflict between Israel and the terror group in the Gaza Strip.

While Egypt and other Arab countries that have ties with the Jewish state still traditionally maintain critical lines toward Israel at the UN, the rhetoric employed by Ambassador Osama Abdel Khalek went much further than is generally used publicly by Egyptian officials, particularly in recent years as Israel-Egypt ties have warmed further.

The tongue-lashing also came after Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, made a point of thanking Egypt and its president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, “who were essential in restoring the calm and stability to our region.” A similar message was passed along to the Egyptian leader by Prime Minister Yair Lapid when the two spoke on the phone around the same time that the Security Council session took place on Monday.

Abdel Khalek began his speech before an emergency Security Council session on the weekend of violence between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad by lamenting the “43 martyrs” killed, making no distinction between PIJ fighters and innocent civilians. He also used an incorrect figure for the death count, which stood at 46 as of Monday afternoon, according to UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wenessland, who spoke before the Egyptian ambassador.

The IDF estimated that 11 of those casualties were innocent civilians caught in the line of fire during its airstrikes targeting PIJ fighters. Sixteen Palestinians were killed by failed PIJ rocket launches that landed inside Gaza, according to the Israeli army.

Abdel Khalek made no mention of PIJ during his speech.

He tore into Israel for allowing “settlers under the protection of the Israeli police to incur the courtyards of the Haram al-Sharif [Temple Mount].” Israel did indeed allow a record number of over 2,000 Jews to visit the Temple Mount on Sunday for the Tisha B’Av fast day, but it views such conduct as in line with its commitment to preserving the status quo at the Jerusalem holy site in which Muslims may visit and pray while non-Muslims can only visit. Police also enforced the policy, detaining several Jewish visitors who violated those terms.

Jews visit the Temple Mount, August 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

But several of Israel’s Arab neighbors saw things differently, and the UAE’s representative to the UN also made a point to condemn the “incursion by a number of extremists of the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque” during his subsequent Security Council speech.

Despite Egypt’s efforts to mediate between Israel and warring parties in Gaza along with its commitment to help rehabilitate the Gaza Strip, Abdel Khalek insisted that Israel was “fully responsible” for the “occupied” coastal enclave. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and maintains that Hamas is now responsible for the territory.

Since Hamas took over Gaza in a violent coup in 2007, Israel has maintained a blockade over the territory, which it says is necessary to prevent the smuggling of weapons and dual-use materials that can be utilized by Hamas and other terror groups in future wars. Egypt has also maintained a blockade over the territory, but this went unmentioned by Abdel Khalek who focused on calling on Israel to end its blockade of the Strip.

He also blasted Israel for mass arrests of Palestinians, expansion of settlements, home demolitions and use of live-fire against Palestinian protesters.

“Egypt will never abandon its historic responsibilities vis-a-vis the Palestinian brotherly people and our efforts [to build] a better future which we all look forward to when peace, security, and stability prevail in the Middle East,” Abdel Khalek added.

The Israeli Mission to the UN declined to respond to the claims made by the Egyptian ambassador

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid sits with Egyptian Foreign Ministry chief of protocol n Cairo ahead of his meetings with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, December 9, 2021 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Monday’s emergency session was held at the request of China, France, Ireland, Norway, and the UAE. It was originally scheduled to take place behind closed doors when it was announced on Saturday in the midst of the fighting. Following pressure from the Palestinian Mission to the UN, China — which currently chairs the body — decided to open Monday’s session to the public.

Focusing more on the latest round of Gaza violence, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas Greenfield seemed to give the most pro-Israel speech of any of the council’s members.

She expressed sadness over the civilian lives lost in the conflict and called for each of them to be investigated. But she clarified that parties “should refrain from jumping to conclusions until we can determine the facts. As just one example, Israel was originally blamed for an attack that inflicted civilian casualties in Jabaliya refugee camp. It now appears to have been caused by a Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket. So let us be sure to follow the facts and see where they lead us.”

Thomas-Greenfield backed Israel’s right to respond to PIJ threats and rocket fire while touting a favorite Biden administration talking point that “Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live in safety and security.”

She highlighted that PIJ was a US-designated terror group as well as an Iranian proxy that has long targeted civilians. “It is telling that Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders were in Tehran the last several days while the people they claim to be protecting were left in harm’s way,” the US envoy said.

Thomas-Greenfield also revealed that PIJ held up the ceasefire agreement “callously prolonging these hostilities” while Lapid’s “leadership…ultimately prevented further casualties and suffering.”

The US ambassador closed by calling for the release of the two Israeli civilians and two fallen IDF soldiers whose remains have been held by Hamas in Gaza for roughly eight years.

In this photo taken from UNTV video, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield addresses an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Ukraine to deplore Russia’s actions toward the country and plead for diplomacy, at UN headquarters, on February 23, 2022. (UNTV via AP)

Like Thomas-Greenfield, Wenessland also condemned PIJ’s “inflammatory rhetoric” and “indiscriminate” rocket fire at Israel in his UN speech. However, he appeared to pan the IDF’s response, which contributed to the civilian death count.

“While fully recognizing Israel’s legitimate security concerns, I reiterate that under international law, all use of force must be proportionate and take all feasible steps to avoid civilian casualties. Children, in particular, must never be the target of violence or put in harm’s way,” Wennesland said.

In a Friday statement, the UN envoy expressed deep concern over Israel’s killing of senior PIJ commander Tayseer Jabari in what kicked off the 66-hour round of violence.

This drew immediate condemnation from Erdan who raised his frustration again at the Monday Security Council session.

The Israeli envoy sought to liken the IDF’s assassination of Jabari to the US killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri last month.

“When al-Zawahiri was eliminated, this institution, as well as most of the world, gave its full support… Yet, when Israel neutralizes such terrorists in order to prevent an imminent attack against our civilians, UN officials suddenly issued ‘deep concern.’ It’s hard to explain such double standards,” Erdan seethed.

At a media stakeout ahead of the Security Council session, Erdan said that the IDF aborted an airstrike to kill senior PIJ commander Khaled Mansour three times at the last minute upon realizing that there were children in the area.

In this handout photo, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan gives a press conference at United Nations headquarters in New York on April 25, 2022. (Courtesy)

“Israel carried out this operation with astounding accuracy and extreme precision, taking precautions hardly ever seen in areas of conflict around the world,” he asserted.

The assertion was rejected outright by Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour. “Israel claims for itself a right to security that would seemingly justify murdering, imprisoning, and oppressing an entire nation,” he began.

“How many more times will Israel get to justify bombing our people in Gaza until someone says enough
is enough?” Mansour pleaded.

He called Israel’s decision to launch Operation Breaking Dawn “an unprovoked and unjustified aggression” and claimed the real reason behind it was “the upcoming Israeli election and the desperation to appeal to and appease the extremists.”

Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour addresses the Security Council on August 8, 2022. (Screen capture/UN TV)

Israel maintains it struck the first blow to prevent the actualization of concrete threats PIJ fighters were posing to Israeli civilians near the Gaza border over a period of four days after the IDF arrested the group’s West Bank leader, Bassem Al-Saadi, in Jenin last week.

Mansour urged Security Council members to intervene in order to protect Palestinians. “Those who really need your support for their security are these defenseless Palestinian families, not the nuclear power,” he said.

The Palestinian ambassador insisted that despite Ramallah’s frustrations with Israel, its hand is still extended in peace. He lamented that the same could not be said about Israel but argued that the Security Council should still “drag the two parties to the process of peace today.”

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