UN envoy says ‘last chance’ to prevent all-out war in Gaza

UN envoy says ‘last chance’ to prevent all-out war in Gaza

Despite ceasefire, Nickolay Mladenov warns risk of another Israel-Hamas war ‘remains imminent’; Qatari envoy arrives to distribute cash to help cement latest truce

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov at a press conference at the (UNSCO) offices in Gaza City, September 25, 2017. (Adel Hana/AP)
United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov at a press conference at the (UNSCO) offices in Gaza City, September 25, 2017. (Adel Hana/AP)

The UN envoy to the Mideast warned Monday that it was the “last chance” to prevent an all-out conflict between Israel and armed terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.

Inaugurating a solar power generator for a Gaza hospital, Nickolay Mladenov said a fresh conflict between the two sides could still break out, a week after a ceasefire between Israel and the Strip’s Hamas rulers ended the most intense fighting since the 2014 war.

“The risk of war remains imminent and today we have perhaps the last chance to consolidate the agreements that have been reached,” he said.

Mladenov told reporters “the next escalation is going to be probably the last one” before the sides descend into a full-fledged war, referring to a series of increasingly violent rounds of fighting that have broken out on the Gaza frontier in the last year.

On May 4 and 5, Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched nearly 700 rockets at southern Israel from Gaza, saying they were frustrated by the slow implementation of a previous ceasefire deal.

Palestinians stand in line outside the post office to receive cash aid, part of $480 million in aid allocated by Qatar, in Gaza City on May 13, 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

After two days of fighting and hundreds of Israeli retaliatory strikes, Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced that Egypt, Qatar and the UN had brokered a new ceasefire deal with Israel.

The most recent ceasefire deal promises to let fuel and humanitarian aid into Gaza, as well as ease the movement of people from the blockaded territory, according to reports. Also among its terms is a program to create jobs for thousands of graduates.

Unemployment in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power 12 years ago, is over 50 percent.

Mladenov told reporters on Monday that he had seen welcome steps by Israel in the wake of the latest spate of violence, such as allowing Gaza fishermen to venture 12 nautical miles out and reopening border crossings.

Meanwhile, Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi arrived in Gaza with a $30 million cash infusion meant for tens of thousands of needy families as part of the cease-fire understandings. Hours later, beneficiaries lined up outside post offices to cash the $100 checks.

Among them was Mohammed Abu Eida, 30, who stood in the line on a pair of crutches. “We want them to lift the siege so we can work. I have rent for my home and I’m married and have a daughter; what is $100? It’s insufficient.”

Qatar, a rare Hamas ally in the region, has financed over $750 million in housing, infrastructure projects and relief operations in the Gaza Strip since 2012. Though Doha doesn’t pay directly to Hamas, which the United States and the European Union classify as a terrorist organization, the cash infusions relieve Hamas from having to fund such vital projects.

In November, the oil-rich Persian Gulf country stepped up its financial support to Gaza in order to defuse tensions after Hamas launched weekly protests along the Gaza-Israel perimeter fence. Qatar had previously provided millions of dollars for Hamas government salaries, but, after Israeli protestations over funds going to the militant group, the money now goes to relief operations.

Last week, Qatar pledged another payment of $480 million to the Palestinians, but this time shifted most of it — $300 million — to Hamas’ rival in the West Bank: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party-run PA. This support for Abbas’s government, which is also engulfed in a severe financial crisis, situates Qatar as a welcome broker in both Gaza and Ramallah for reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas.

A Palestinian worker checks a truck carrying United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) aid supplies that arrived through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel to the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on May 12, 2019. (SAID KHATIB/AFP)

Meanwhile, the UN Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, has warned that food supplies for more than half of Gaza’s population “will be severely challenged” if the agency doesn’t get at least $60 million in additional funding by June.

UNRWA said that it provides food — among other services like education and health care — to more than 1 million Palestinians in Gaza, including some 620,000 of “those who cannot cover their basic food needs and who have to survive on US $1.60 per day.”

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