UN sees guns go silent as world faces off against common enemy

UN sees guns go silent as world faces off against common enemy

Envoy hails ‘excellent’ cooperation between Israel and Palestinians in fighting COVID-19 and world body pushes ahead with resolution supporting ceasefires in face of pandemic

A Palestinian policeman mans a checkpoint to receive and register laborers exiting an Israeli army checkpoint, on their way home at the end of a day work in Israel, near the West Bank village of Nilin, west of Ramallah, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. (AP/Nasser Nasser)
A Palestinian policeman mans a checkpoint to receive and register laborers exiting an Israeli army checkpoint, on their way home at the end of a day work in Israel, near the West Bank village of Nilin, west of Ramallah, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — The United Nations on Thursday hailed armed groups heeding its call for a ceasefire during the coronavirus crisis, as Security Council and General Assembly members prepared draft resolutions in support of the measure.

Armed groups in Cameroon, the Philippines, Yemen and Syria have moved in recent days to reduce violence as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday issued an appeal for ceasefire.

The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffith, said he was “heartened” to see positive responses from both the government and Houthi rebels.

“I expect the parties to adhere to their words and put the interest of the Yemeni people above all,” Griffith said in a statement, calling for an “urgent meeting” on how to put their commitments into practice.

The civil war in Yemen, which has dragged on for more than five years, pits the Iran-aligned Houthis against government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition.

Experts say that the conflict has created the worse humanitarian crisis in the world.

Guterres issued his ceasefire call in a bid to protect civilians in war-ravaged countries like Yemen and Syria — largely spared so far by the virus — whose barely functioning health care systems could not handle its spread.

Workers disinfect the streets to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Qamishli, Syria, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (AP/Baderkhan Ahmad)

Elements of a draft resolution related to COVID-19’s impact on “peace and security situations” is circulating between the five permanent members of the Security Council, according to a diplomat who requested anonymity to speak freely.

Some UN Countries are “thinking about a text on supporting Guterres’ appeal,” another diplomatic source told AFP, a move initiated by France.

Following a conversation with his US counterpart Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that the United States and France were “preparing with other countries a new strong initiative in the coming days.”

Yemeni women work to manufacture protective face masks, that are in high demand worldwide due the outbreak of the coronavirus, at a textile factory in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday, Mar. 17, 2020.(AP/Hani Mohammed)

It was not immediately clear whether he was referring to measures being discussed between Security Council member states.

In a parallel process, six countries — Switzerland, Singapore, Norway, Liechtenstein, Indonesia and Ghana — have drafted a General Assembly resolution stressing the importance of multilateralism and international cooperation amid the coronavirus outbreak, sources told AFP.

Unlike in the Security Council, resolutions adopted by the General Assembly’s 193 members are not binding but can have strong political value if enough countries sign on.

‘Excellent’ cooperation

UN special envoy Nickolay Mladenov said Thursday that Israeli-Palestinian cooperation on efforts against the virus was “excellent,” and said he was discussing ways to revive peace talks with the US, Russia and European Union.

For the past week, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been coordinating a lockdown measure over the West Bank, barring the overwhelming majority of Palestinian workers from crossing out of the territory.

In an extraordinary measure, Israel allowed Palestinian workers to stay in the country for one to two months or more to keep them from crossing back and forth.

Palestinian health workers disinfectant Palestinian workers as they cross back from Israel at a checkpoint in Tarqumiya on March 25, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

On Thursday, the director-general of the Israeli Health Ministry said he was concerned about the spread of the virus among Palestinians.

“We’re epidemiologically integrated organs. What happens there will ultimately happen here,” Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, told the Knesset’s coronavirus committee.

Israel has coordinated the entry of thousands of masks, tests and other medical supplies for the beleaguered Palestinian population.

‘Renewed dialogue’

In Cameroon, separatists in two mainly English-speaking regions have been fighting the government in the majority French-speaking central African country for three years in a war that has left more than 3,000 people dead, many of them civilians.

“We welcome the temporary ceasefire announced by the Southern Cameroons Defense Force,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said at his weekly press briefing in New York.

“The Secretary-General calls on other armed groups to do likewise.”

That group issued its temporary ceasefire call on Wednesday, but the conflict involves a multitude of groups, and their representatives — some of whom live abroad — are not always in close touch with those on the ground.

Guterres called for “renewed dialogue” in Cameroon “that will put an end to the violence and human suffering,” Dujarric said.

In the Philippines, the UN said the armed wing of the Communist Party, which is fighting to overthrow the Manila government, had announced a temporary ceasefire on Tuesday.

A Romanian serviceman gestures as the country’s army was called to assist the police in enforcing a full day lockdown in Bucharest, Romania, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. (AP/Vadim Ghirda)

It added that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the north-east of the country also supported the ceasefire appeal and had announced on Tuesday their “commitment to avoid engaging in military action.”

The secretary-general meanwhile called on other parties in the Syrian conflict to support the ceasefire.

Guterres “hopes that this will serve as an example across the world to silence the guns and come together as we face the global threat of COVID-19,” Dujarric said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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