The United Nations envoy for Middle East peace, who has played a central role in mediating between Israel and Hamas amid recent violence on the Gaza border, may leave his post to become the organization’s envoy to Syria, Israeli television reported Tuesday.
According to Hadashot TV news, Nickolay Mladenov’s possible departure is being met with concern in Jerusalem, with an Israeli official telling the network it would be a “pity” if Mladenov leaves for Syria.
“He has forged wonderful connections with the Israeli leadership and is attentive to our needs,” the unnamed source was quoted saying.
The report said Mladenov, a former Bulgarian diplomat and defense minister, is aware he is the top candidate being considered to replace Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, and has expressed a desire to soon take up the position.
Quoting unnamed UN officials, the report said Mladenov has asked to retain his current job in addition to the new post, but UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is opposed to this arrangement.
Mladenov has emerged as a key figure in efforts to achieve a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and has shuttled between Israel, Gaza and Egypt to broker an agreement.
Earlier this month Hamas announced a ceasefire brokered by the Egyptians and the UN had taken effect, days after the largest flare-up between the sides since the 2014 Gaza war.
Though the ceasefire has not been officially acknowledged by Israel, a senior diplomatic source days later credited the relative calm to “the understandings advanced by the Egyptians and the UN,” without elaborating.
The sides are now working toward a long-term truce, though Israel has conditioned this on the return of two Israeli citizens and a pair of soldiers’ bodies killed during the 2014 war being held by Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza.
The recent heavy exchange of fire between Hamas and Israel came after a number of other similar bouts of intense violence in the past months, as well as weekly clashes along the border that have regularly included rioting, attacks on Israeli troops and attempts to infiltrate and sabotage the border fence.
Mladenov has been outspoken in his calls for calm during the fighting between Israel and Hamas, imploring the sides to “step back from the brink.”
At least 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the weekly protests began, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.
One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.
In addition to the border clashes, southern Israel has experienced hundreds of fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons flown over the border from Gaza. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.