Sunday, 08 October 2023 23:14

Middle East crisis: UN engages parties as Security Council meets

Top UN officials engaged key actors amid the spiraling Israeli-Palestinian conflict while UN peacekeepers detected rocket and artillery fire exchanged across the Israel-Lebanon border ahead of Sunday’s Security Council emergency closed-door meeting on the unfolding crisis.

As the 15-member Council prepared to meet, UN agencies were reporting that hundreds of people have been killed and thousands injured following the early Saturday morning rocket fire into Israel by Palestinian militants.

The ensuing Israeli response to the Hamas attacks included airstrikes in Gaza, where the UN agency operating there, UNRWA, had reported massive damages alongside rising death tolls.

The UN agency is currently sheltering 73,538 internally displaced people in 64 of its schools in all areas in the Gaza Strip. An UNRWA school sheltering 225 people was "directly hit" and severely damaged, but no casualties were recorded, the agency said.

New reports emerged of alarming food scarcity and clashes across the Israel-Lebanon border.

UN News/Ziad Taleb
Men walk through a heavily damaged area of central Gaza.

Israel-Lebanon border: Rocket, artillery fire

Early Sunday, the UN peacekeeping operation in Lebanon, UNIFIL, “detected several rockets fired from southeast Lebanon toward Israeli-occupied territory in the general area of Kafr Chouba and artillery fire from Israel to Lebanon in response”, according to the mission.

UNRWA

The UN Security Council-mandated mission, operating along an area known as the “Blue Line”, was deployed in 1978 to restore peace between Israel and Lebanon.

“We are in contact with authorities on both sides of the Blue Line, at all levels, to contain the situation and avoid a more serious escalation,” UNIFIL said in a statement. “Our peacekeepers remain in their positions and on task.”

UNIFIL said peacekeepers continued to work, “some from shelters, for their safety”.

“We urge everyone to exercise restraint and make use of UNIFIL’s liaison and coordination mechanisms to de-escalate to prevent a fast deterioration of the security situation,” the mission said.

In ‘close contact’ with key actors

At the same time, the UN chief of the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, “is in close contact” with the United States, European Union, Qatar, Egypt, and Lebanon “to discuss the ongoing war” in Israel and Gaza, according to a social media post by his office, UNSCO.

“Priority now is to avoid further loss of civilian life and deliver much needed humanitarian aid to the Strip,” the UNSCO post said, adding that the “UN remains actively engaged to advance these efforts”.

Calls to protect civilians

Top UN officials have called for an immediate cessation of violence.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Saturday condemned “in the strongest terms” the attack by Hamas against Israeli towns, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said, urging “maximum restraint” and that “all diplomatic efforts” are made “to avoid a wider conflagration”.

“Civilians must be respected and protected in accordance with international humanitarian law at all times,” the UN chief said in a statement.

UN agency raises alarm over food scarcity

As the conflict intensifies, civilians, including vulnerable children and families, face mounting challenges in accessing essential food supplies, with distribution networks disrupted and production severely hampered by hostilities, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

“WFP urges safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to affected areas, calling on all parties to uphold the principles of humanitarian law, taking every necessary measure to safeguard the lives and well-being of civilians, including ensuring access to food,” the agency said.

From Gaza, UNRWA reported that food operations remain on hold until further notice, with 14 distribution centres now closed. Some 112,759 families, or 541,640 individuals, had not yet received food assistance, the agency said.