UN envoy urges Gaza and Israel to step back from brink of war

Mladenov says Palestinians must keep border protests peaceful, stop firing rockets and incendiary kites; calls on Israel to show restraint

Nikolay Mladenov, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, at Yad Vashem in August 28, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Nikolay Mladenov, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, at Yad Vashem in August 28, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East arrived in the Gaza Strip on Sunday in a bid to de-escalate surging Israeli-Palestinian tensions following an intense weekend of fighting that threatened to devolve into all-out war.

At a press conference, Nickolay Mladenov said that Gaza and Israel were on the brink of war that nobody wanted and everything must be done to prevent it.

He said there were three factors that led to the rapid deterioration of the situation in the coastal enclave: the humanitarian factor, as “the economy has collapsed, electricity and water are scarce”; the “deterioration of the political situation with the stopping of the reconciliation process,” and “a very rapid deterioration in the security situation” between Gaza and Israel.

“Yesterday, we were on the brink of war. And it is taking the concerted efforts of everyone to make sure that we step back from confrontation,” Mladenov said. “A confrontation that nobody wants, nobody needs, and a confrontation from which everybody will lose.”

The envoy urged both Gazans and Israelis to show restraint.

“I appeal to all Palestinians, to all parents of all children in Gaza today to step back and keep the protests peaceful,” Mladenov said. “I appeal to the Palestinian factions to not provoke incidents at the fence, to stop the firing of rockets and mortars, to stop the incendiary kites and to give peace a chance.

Fightes from the Islamic Jihad terror group march during a military drill near the border with Israel, east of the town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 27, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

“I appeal to Israel, to be very restrained in its responses to the situation in Gaza. I appeal to snipers not to shoot children,” he added.

He said that he was working with the international community to step back from conflict and improve the situation.

“I hope that within the next few days you will see the results of our efforts to contain the situation and to chart a political path forward,” he said.

He said that the first step was for an end to the “shelling and to end the firing.”

Palestinian children at home reading books by candlelight due to electricity shortages in Gaza City, June 13, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

That had to be followed by a resolution of the humanitarian situation, including to “create jobs, provide electricity, fix the health care system and provide water.”

And equally importantly, he said, the political situation had to be resolved, which meant opening the border crossings with Israel and Egypt, and working toward reconciliation between Hamas, which governs Gaza, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank.

“You cannot have a Palestinian state without Gaza, and you cannot have a Palestinian state only in Gaza,” he said.

Smoke plumes rising, following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, July 14, 2018. (AFP / MAHMUD HAMS)

Over the course of approximately 24 hours on Saturday and into Sunday, southern Israel and the Gaza Strip saw one of the largest exchanges of fire since the 2014 Gaza war.

Along with Egyptian officials, Mladenov spent most of Saturday on the phone to Israeli and Hamas officials helping to secure the ceasefire.

The truce appeared to hold into Sunday, with Israel giving southern residents the all-clear to return to their normal routines.

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