UN General Assembly to meet on Gaza as US blocks 3rd Security Council statement

Amid growing international efforts to restore calm, Blinken indicates US not joining calls for immediate ceasefire

Member state flags fly outside the United Nations headquarters during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Member state flags fly outside the United Nations headquarters during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The current president of the UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir of Turkey, said Monday he would convene the GA on Thursday morning to discuss the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza.

The decision comes amid an intensifying international effort to secure a ceasefire between the sides, after a week of deadly cross-border violence.

On Monday US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr was in Ramallah meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other officials.

Israel has said it intends to press on for now with its attacks against Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken signaled Monday the US still was not joining calls for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the press prior to a meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi at the State Department in Washington, DC, May 10, 2021 (SAUL LOEB / POOL / AFP)

“We have made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices to the parties should they seek a ceasefire,” Blinken said during a visit to Copenhagen.

“Any diplomatic initiative that advances that prospect is something that we’ll support,” he said. “And we are again willing and ready to do that. But ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a ceasefire.”

The comments contrasted somewhat with ones the top US diplomat made Sunday, when he tweeted that “all parties need to deescalate tensions – the violence must end immediately.”

Meanwhile, for the third time in a week, the US blocked a joint statement from the UN Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, two diplomats involved in the matter said Sunday.

The draft statement made no explicit mention of Hamas rocket fire in Gaza.

A man walks past the rubble of the Yazegi residential building that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The Times of Israel obtained a copy of the draft statement. It expressed the council’s “grave concern regarding the crisis related to Gaza and the loss of civilian lives and casualties, and called for de-escalation of the situation, cessation of violence and respect for international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians, especially children.”

The members expressed concern regarding recent violence in Jerusalem, calling for maintaining the status quo at holy sites and “the right of Muslim worshipers to pray in peace at Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

They also expressed serious concern regarding the looming Israeli eviction of Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan “and voiced opposition to unilateral actions, which will only escalate the already tense environment.”

Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defense system is launched to intercept a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip, above the southern city of Ashkelon, on May 17, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)

An official at the US mission suggested to The Times of Israel that the joint statement would not have helped Washington’s own efforts to broker a ceasefire.

“As we have communicated consistently to council members over the last week, the US is engaging in intense diplomatic efforts at the highest levels to try to bring an end to this conflict. The US has a role in ensuring any council statement supports these efforts,” the official said.

A Security Council diplomat told ToI that the wording of the joint statement from the top UN body was not what led to the US mission’s decision to block the measure.

“They told us they could not support an expression from the council at this time,” the diplomat said.

The European Union said Monday it will redouble its efforts to end the surge in violence and seek progress during a special meeting of its foreign ministers on Tuesday.

The EU also called Israel’s weekend destruction of a building housing The Associated Press and other major international media “extremely worrying” and said safe working conditions for journalists were essential. Israel warned occupants to leave in advance and asserts the building was also hosting Hamas military offices.

The EU has never had the impact that Washington can wield in the region and no immediate breakthrough was expected from Tuesday’s meeting. Ever since the outbreak of violence last week, the EU has been calling for restraint and condemned attacks that hit civilian populations.

Tuesday’s meeting is to seek “how best that EU can contribute to diffusing the tensions, stop the escalation and stop the ongoing violence,” EU spokesman Peter Stano said.

Rescue services are seen at a building in the southern port city of Ashdod that was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip, May 17, 2021. (Magen David Adom of Ashdod)

On Monday German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced “solidarity” with Israel in a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and called for a swift end to the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence in years.

“The chancellor again sharply condemned the continued rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel and assured the prime minister of the German government’s solidarity,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement after the call. “She reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself against the attacks.”

Given the many civilian lives lost on both sides, the statement added, “the chancellor expressed her hope that the fighting will end as soon as possible.”

Netanyahu’s office said he also spoke with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and that the latter expressed his “unreserved support for Israel’s right to defend itself in light of the rocket fire from Gaza.”

However, Dutch diplomats characterized the call differently, saying Rutter said Israel “has the right to defend itself against these attacks, but precisely because it is a strong country, it also has a responsibility to act proportionately within the bounds of international law.”

During Sunday’s open meeting of the Security Council, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the US was “working tirelessly through diplomatic channels to try and bring an end to this conflict.”

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, some 200 Palestinians have died since the beginning of the fighting, 59 of them children. Israel has said it does not target civilians, and that many of the dead were terrorists or killed by errant Hamas rockets.

On Sunday, 42 Palestinians were reported killed in the deadliest single strike since the violence erupted a week ago. The IDF said it had targeted Hamas infrastructure under the homes of Palestinian civilians.

Ten people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, have been killed in the rocket fire, and hundreds have been injured.

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