UN council meets on Jerusalem violence, considers statement
Published Monday, May 10, 2021 6:58PM EDT
An explosion caused by Israeli airstrikes is seen at Gaza City, Monday, May 10, 2021. Hamas militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel on Monday, including a barrage that set off air raid sirens as far away as Jerusalem, after hundreds of Palestinians were hurt in clashes with Israeli police at a flashpoint religious site in the contested holy city. The rocket fire drew heavy Israeli retaliation in the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
CAMEROON, CAMEROON -- The UN Security Council held emergency consultations Monday on escalating violence in east Jerusalem and was considering a proposed statement calling on Israel to cease evictions and calling for "restraint" and respect for "the historic status quo at the holy sites."
Ireland's UN ambassador, Geraldine Byrne Nason, who joined in calling for the emergency meeting, said that "the Security Council should urgently speak out, and we hope that it will be able to do so today."
Council diplomats said all 15 members expressed concern at the clashes and rising violence but the United States, Israel's closest ally, said a statement might not be useful at this time.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price, speaking to reporters in Washington, said the Biden administration wants to ensure that anything from the Security Council "be that statements or anything else -- don't escalate tensions. That's our overriding priority."
The U.S. agreed to have council experts discuss the statement after all other members said the UN's most powerful body must react, the council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations were private. But the U.S. was still wary late Monday afternoon, they said.
The draft statement would express the Security Council's "grave concern" at escalating tensions and violence in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and "serious concern" over the possible evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem, "many of whom have lived in their homes for generations."
There have been weeks of mounting tensions and almost nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, already a time of heightened religious sensitivities.
Most recently, the tensions have been fueled by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of east Jerusalem where Israeli settlers have waged a lengthy legal battle to take over properties.
The proposed statement would call on Israel "to cease settlement activities, demolitions and evictions, including in east Jerusalem in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law" and refrain from unilateral steps "that exacerbate tensions and undermine the viability of the two-state solution."
It would express deep worry about daily clashes, especially in and around Jerusalem's holy sites which have led to many injuries and would call for restraint and "refraining from provocative actions and rhetoric."
Calling for respect for the historic status of Jerusalem's holy sites, the draft would also underscore "that Muslim worshippers at the holy sites must be allowed to worship in peace, free from violence, threats and provocations."
The council would also reiterate its support for a negotiated solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict where "two states, Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and sovereign Palestine live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders."
China's UN Ambassador Zhang Jun, the current council president who proposed the statement under consideration along with Norway and Tunisia, called the clashes between Israelis and Palestinians "disturbing."
"Israeli authorities should take necessary measures to prevent violence, threats and provocations against Muslim worshippers," Zhang said.
Notway's UN ambassador, Mona Juul, said: "The situation on the ground is clearly explosive, not only in east Jerusalem but also in and around Gaza. This will have grave consequences and is the last this region needs."
She told AP her key message to the council was that it is vital for the 15-member council to come "out with a clear statement, calling for de-escalation and confirming its support to the two-state solution."
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.