UN envoy warns new war likely if Palestinian reconciliation fails

Nickolay Mladenov says failure of Fatah-Hamas deal could lead to breakdown of law and order in Gaza, ending in ‘devastation and suffering for all’

Nikolay Mladenov, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, speaks during a press conference at the UNESCO headquarters in Gaza City, September 25, 2017. (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)
Nikolay Mladenov, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, speaks during a press conference at the UNESCO headquarters in Gaza City, September 25, 2017. (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)

UNITED NATIONS — The UN’s Mideast envoy said reconciliation talks between Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas must succeed, warning that failure “will most likely result in another devastating conflict.”

Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council Monday that “critical intra-Palestinian talks” are scheduled to open in Cairo on Tuesday.

He said the October 12 agreement between the rivals, aimed at restoring the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority’s rule in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, started “a long road that could lead to reconciliation.”

But he pointed out that other reconciliation efforts had fallen short, warning of dire consequences if this one did as well.

“We cannot allow this current effort to become another missed opportunity,” he said. “If it does, it will most likely result in another devastating conflict. Whether that conflict would be triggered by a meltdown of law and order in Gaza, by the reckless action of extremists or by strategic choice, the result will be the same – devastation and suffering for all.

“This cycle must be avoided at all costs,” he said.

The envoy warned that the recently discovered attack tunnel dug by Palestinian Islamic Jihad from Gaza into Israel could scupper the deal. Israel blew up the terror group’s tunnel, which Islamic Jihad said was built in order to “kidnap Israeli soldiers,” killing at least 12 Palestinian terror operatives inside the tunnel.

“At a time when Palestinians in Gaza — who have lived with closures for a decade, survived three conflicts, and have had to struggle to merely exist — are seeing hope for the future, such actions and statements risk a dangerous escalation that could destroy the prospects for intra-Palestinian reconciliation,” Mladenov said.

He told the council that despite the deal between Fatah and Hamas, residents of Gaza continued to live under intolerable conditions.

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

“The lack of electricity has been devastating for basic services. Power outages of 18 to 20 hours a day continue; most of the population has access to piped water for only three to five hours every five days; untreated sewage continues to flow into the Mediterranean Sea at catastrophic levels; 45 percent of essential drugs and medical supplies have now reached zero stock in Gaza,” he said.

He called on the Palestinian Authority to do more for the people of the coastal enclave.

“As the Palestinian Government seeks to return to Gaza, it should take immediate action to reverse measures that add to the burden of Palestinians living there,” he said.

“Two million Palestinians in Gaza have high hopes that the Government’s return will improve their lives,” he said. “After living in abject misery under Hamas control and locked in by the closures, their situation is close to exploding.”

He also said that rapprochement between the two groups could pave the way for a future peace agreement with Israel.

“I believe and hope that a genuine change in Gaza… would contribute to restoring confidence in the feasibility of a comprehensive peace agreement,” he said

But he said the rival factions must first solve the humanitarian crisis for Gaza’s two million residents and return the territory to full civilian and security control by the Palestinian Authority.

Tuesday’s talks are expected to focus on the Palestinian Authority’s expansion of its rule in Gaza.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, seized control of Gaza from Fatah in 2007.

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