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Scoop: In new report, UN secretary-general warns of new Gaza war

Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

A new report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres set to be published later this week sounds the alarm about the harsh humanitarian crisis in Gaza and warns of a new war between Israel and Hamas.

The big picture: The report was a byproduct of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 on the Israeli settlements which passed on December 2016 after the Obama administration decided not to veto it. Together with the Israeli government, the Trump transition team and the then-president-elect tried to prevent the resolution from passing.

  • Since Trump entered the White House, the United States' ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has denounced the resolution many times and made every effort to fight its requirements.
  • Haley put pressure on Guterres not to publish a report as the resolution demands. She succeeded in preventing its publication for 17 months, but after pressure from France and other members of the Security Council, Guterres decided to publish the document, which is set to be updated every several months.
  • The still-not-public report was circulated to the 15 members of the Security Council last week, and I obtained a copy.

The main points of Guterres' report:

  • Guterres describes the humanitarian crisis in Gaza — a collapsing health system with medicine and medical supplies diminishing; no electricity for 22 hours a day; and donor funds available for the UN to distribute emergency fuel to power critical water, sanitation and health facilities only through early August.
  • He warns this crisis could have dangerous consequences: "Gaza has witnessed in the last three months the most serious escalation since the 2014 conflict between Hamas and Israel. It is and should be a warning to all how close to the brink of war the situation is. Only by changing the reality on the ground can we avert another disastrous, lethal conflict."
  • Guterres writes that he is shocked by the number of deaths and injuries to Palestinians from the use of live fire by the IDF since protests began on March 30th. He stresses: "Israel has a responsibility to exercise maximum restraint in the use of live fire, and to not use lethal force, except as a last resort against imminent threat of death or serious injury. It must protect its citizens, but it must do so with due respect of international humanitarian law.  The killing of children, as well as of clearly identified journalists and medical staffers by security forces during a demonstration are particularly unacceptable."
  • He lays part of the responsibility on Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman: "Israeli officials also made provocative and inflammatory statements. In a radio interview, a senior Israeli minister [Avigdor Lieberman]...falsely asserted that all Palestinians [in Gaza] are affiliated with Hamas, and thus by extension legitimate targets. … [This] signaled a permissive Israeli policy towards the use of live fire against protestors and contributed to the tragedy we have witnessed over the past 11 weeks."
  • Guterres also harshly criticizes Hamas and stresses: "Hamas leadership’s incitement of protestors in Gaza enflamed and encouraged a highly volatile situation that contributed to violent actions at the fence and risked a serious escalation. … The actions of Hamas and other militant groups put at risk not only the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, but also the efforts to restore dignity and the prospects of a livable future for Palestinians in Gaza."
  • The Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were a side issue in the report: "Israel’s settlement activities continue unabated and undermine the hopes and the practical prospects for establishing a viable Palestinian state."
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