UN envoy: Gaza needs houses and schools, not rockets and tunnels

In testimony before the Security Council, Robert Serry calls for end of blockade, says ceasefire must ensure Israel’s security

With a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas set to expire at midnight, Robert Serry, the UN’s top envoy for the peace process, told the Security Council Monday that “the basic equation must consist of ending the blockade on Gaza, and addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns.”

Serry emphasized the importance of the Egyptian efforts to broker a long-term deal, and called on Gazans to “rally behind the Government of National Consensus and empower it to take charge and effect the positive, transformative change that Gaza so badly needs.”

He stressed that the PA security forces should eventually be redeployed in the Gaza Strip.

Addressing Israel’s concerns, Serry said that the UN has a mechanism for ensuring that humanitarian materials are used for their intended purposes, and do not end up in the hands of Hamas.

Serry also warned that recent riots in the West Bank serve as a “bleak warning to all concerned what the future will bring if we do not reverse the current negative trend towards a one-state reality, which is now on the parties’ doorstep.”

In June, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman raised the possibility of expelling Serry for seeking to help transfer Qatari funds to Gaza. Serry rejected the allegations.

Serry said Gaza would require massive reconstruction. He said there were indications that “the volume of reconstruction will be about three times” what it was after the 2009 Hamas-Israel conflict.

Serry said approximately 16,800 housing units have been destroyed or severely damaged, affecting some 100,000 Palestinians. In addition, he said an estimated 108 installations belonging to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees were damaged along with the Gaza branch of his own office.

Serry said ways must be found to get large quantities of building materials, including cement, into Gaza “in a way that fulfills Israel’s security concerns.”

During the latest conflict, Israel discovered and destroyed dozens of cross-border tunnels. Israel has said it is willing, in principle, to ease Gaza border restrictions — but only with safeguards that prevent weapons or goods with possible military uses, such as cement for building tunnels and bunkers, from reaching Hamas.

Hamas agreed to a power-sharing agreement in April with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction controls the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority now controls a unity government of technocrats in both the West Bank and Gaza but Hamas’ military wing still controls security in Gaza.

Serry said the UN-Israeli system to import construction materials has been used “for years.”

“This system has demonstrably worked, prevented diversion of materials, allowed successful implementation of crucial projects, and built trust,” he said. “Reconstruction of the magnitude which is now needed can only be addressed with the involvement at scale of the Palestinian Authority and the private sector in Gaza, meaning larger quantities of materials are required to enter Gaza.”

He said the United Nations is ready to explore how it can be expanded to monitor a Palestinian Authority-led private-sector reconstruction program in Gaza.

Norway and Egypt announced plans on Monday to co-host a donor conference once a durable cease-fire is in place and once adequate access conditions have been established, he said.

Serry said a system to import building materials should be agreed on before the conference because “donors will want to be assured that they can bring construction materials inside Gaza.”

“Right now, Gaza urgently needs houses, hospitals, and schools — not rockets, tunnels, and conflict,” Serry stressed.

Israel's Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, left (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel’s UN Ambassador Ron Prosor, left (photo credit: Courtesy/File)

Israel’s UN Ambassador Ron Prosor endorsed that statement from Serry, noting it was a rare moment of agreement with the UN official.

Prosor vehemently disputed the UN’s casualty figures from the latest fighting, accusing the UN of quoting numbers from Hamas which it accused of using civilians as human shields.

Serry called the toll “appalling” — almost 2,000 Palestinians killed, more than two-thirds of them civilians, including 459 children and 239 women, and some 10,000 injured, roughly a third of them children.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the United Nations does not get its casualty figures from Hamas. It gets the figures from the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and they are based on reporting from non-governmental organizations, he said.

Israel says at least 750-1,000 of the Gaza dead are Hamas and other gunmen. It also blames Hamas for all civilian fatalities, since Hamas set up its rocket-launchers, tunnel openings and other elements of its war machine in Gaza neighborhoods and uses Gazans as “human shields.” Eleven of Israel’s soldiers were killed by Hamas gunmen emerging from cross-border tunnels dug under the Israeli border. Hamas has fired over 3,000 rockets at Israel, including some 600 from close to schools, mosques and other civilian facilities, the Israeli army says.

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