UN chief proposes military force to protect Palestinians from Israel

Armed international mission among options floated by Guterres in response to General Assembly request for report on Hamas-led Gaza clashes

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference after his meeting with the Russian foreign minister in Moscow, June 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Yuri Kadobnov)
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference after his meeting with the Russian foreign minister in Moscow, June 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Yuri Kadobnov)

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday presented four options aimed at boosting the protection of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, from sending UN rights monitors and unarmed observers to deploying a military or police force under UN mandate.

The proposals were contained in a report requested by the General Assembly in response to a surge of violence in Gaza, where 171 Palestinians have been killed during Hamas-led clashes with Israeli troops since late March. Dozens of the dead were members of Hamas and other terror groups, Hamas has acknowledged.

The UN chief stressed that for each of the options, cooperation by Israel and the Palestinians would be necessary. It remained unlikely however that Israel would agree to the proposals.

In the 14-page report, Guterres proposed:

– Providing a “more robust UN presence on the ground” with rights monitors and political officers to report on the situation.

– Pouring in more UN humanitarian and development aid to “ensure the well-being of the population.”

– Creating a civilian observer mission that would be present in sensitive areas such as checkpoints and near Israeli settlements, with a mandate to report on protection issues.

– Deploying an armed military or police force, under a UN mandate, to provide physical protection to Palestinian civilians.

Palestinians take part in clashes with Israeli troops along the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City on July 27, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

A UN mandate for a protection force would require a decision from the Security Council, where the United States could use its veto power to block a measure opposed by Israel.

A small European-staffed observer mission was deployed in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994, but Israel has since rejected calls for an international presence in flashpoint areas.

In the report, Guterres said the United Nations was already undertaking many protection initiatives but that “these measures fall short” of the concerns raised in a General Assembly resolution adopted in June.

In that measure, the 193-nation assembly condemned Israel for the deaths in Gaza and tasked Guterres with the drafting of proposals for “an international protection mechanism” for the Palestinians. Dozens of those killed have been acknowledged as members of Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups.

Israel maintains soldiers have opened fire in accordance with army regulations and accuses Hamas, the terror group that runs Gaza and is sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction, of using the clashes as cover to attempt to breach the border fence and carry out attacks.

‘Unacceptable’ targeting of civilians

Guterres argued that a political solution to the conflict was needed to address the safety of Palestinians but that “until such a solution is achieved, member-states may further explore all practical and feasible measures that will significantly improve the protection of the Palestinian civilian population.”

“Such measures would also improve the security of Israeli civilians.”

There was no immediate response from Israeli officials to the Guterres’ proposals.

On Friday, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said two Palestinians taking part in clashes along the Gaza border were killed and another 270 Palestinians were wounded.

The Israel Defense Forces said thousands of Palestinians took part in the riots, hurling improvised bombs and Molotov cocktails at troops. Others launched balloons carrying pictures of so-called “martyrs” who had been killed by Israel. Several attempted to infiltrate the border.

Hamas leadership had urged the public to participate in Friday’s protests.

Palestinians take part in clashes on the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on August 17, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Israel has defended its use of live ammunition in Gaza by invoking its right to self-defense. An Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July.

“The targeting of civilians, particularly children, is unacceptable,” Guterres said in the report, adding that “those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable.”

UN efforts to ensure the well-being of Palestinians must be strengthened, he added, singling out the funding crisis at the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA as being “of particular concern.”

UNRWA is facing a major budget shortfall after US President Donald Trump’s administration decided to withhold its contribution to the agency, with the president linking the decision to the Palestinians’ refusal to speak with his administration after he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and because they were “no longer willing to talk peace.”

Employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and their families protest against job cuts announced by the agency outside its offices in Gaza City on July 31, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, has been pushing to remove the refugee status of millions of Palestinians as part of an apparent effort to shutter UNRWA, according to emails published earlier this month by Foreign Policy magazine.

Israel has often criticized UNRWA, accusing it of sheltering terrorists and allowing Palestinians to remain refugees even after settling in a new city or country for many generations, thus complicating a possible resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The report released to all UN member-states comes amid a vacuum in Middle East peace efforts as European and other big powers await a peace plan from the Trump administration that has been under discussion for months.

UN diplomats have recently begun questioning whether the US peace plan will ever materialize.

The United Nations has warned that a new war could explode in Gaza, as Israel and Hamas have engaged in a number of brief exchanges of fire in recent months that have included the launching of hundreds of rockets and mortars toward Israeli territory by Palestinian terror groups.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

Most Popular
read more: