Intense diplomatic efforts by the UN and Egypt have helped avoid another Israeli-Palestinian war in Gaza that appeared just “minutes away” over the weekend.
Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the UN Security Council that the confrontation could have been devastating.
Mr Mladenov said: “Last Saturday we were minutes away from another devastating confrontation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
“After intense efforts by the United Nations and Egypt, I can report that the situation is calming down, although tensions remain.”
The enclave bordered by Israel and the Mediterranean has been controlled by a Palestinian militant faction, Hamas, since 2007, while Israel has blocked the movements of Palestinians from Gaza.
The UN has said the root causes of the intractable conflict there include a more than 50-year occupation by Israel of the Palestinian territory, its years-long blockade of Gaza, Hamas’s continuing control of the enclave, and the division between Palestine’s two political factions – Fatah and Hamas.
Mr Mladenov said that “over the last two weeks, the situation quickly spiralled out of control, nearly to a point of no-return”.
The past month, he said, had witnessed one of the largest escalations since the most recent 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict.
No fewer than 19 Palestinians, including seven children, were killed by Israel defence forces in Gaza, during protests, clashes, and airstrikes, and over 1,000 were injured.
One Israeli soldier was killed by gunfire from Gaza last week, while four Israeli civilians and an Israeli soldier were moderately injured, respectively, by rocket fire and a hand grenade attack.
Hamas and other militants fired 283 rockets and mortars from Gaza towards Israel, while the Israeli Air Force (IAF) fired some 189 missiles and artillery shells against targets in Gaza.
Mr Mladenov said he travelled to Gaza on July 15 and earlier on Tuesday, in an urgent effort to de-escalate tensions, appealing to Palestinian factions not to provoke incidents at the fence, to immediately stop the firing of rockets and mortars and to stop the incendiary kites and balloons.
The UN envoy also appealed to Israel to fully reopen border crossings, stop shelling, particularly in populated areas, and to exercise restraint towards Gaza.
“I returned to Jerusalem from Gaza just an hour ago and am hopeful that with collective efforts by all sides we can avoid another war, allow Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis in communities across the border to sleep in peace and begin addressing all humanitarian issues,” he said.
He said that a few hours ago, the Israeli forces reported that it fired two missiles, which shot down a Syrian fighter jet that they claimed had infiltrated nearly two kilometres into Israeli airspace.
“We are closely monitoring the situation,” the UN envoy said.
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