UN official says threat of Gaza war still high
The risk of another Gaza war is still imminent, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov told Army radio on Thursday morning, as Israel’s northern border with Lebanon has heated up.
He spoke just two days after Israel launched a military operation on its side of the Lebanese border to destroy attack tunnels the terror group Hizbollah had built extending into Israeli territory.
“Whichever way you look at Gaza, whether from a political or a security or a humanitarian perspective, the risk of an escalation is very real,” Mladenov said.
This is the case, he said, even though, “from a strategic perspective, no one has an interest in another war in Gaza.” This is true for Israel, the Palestinians, Egypt, the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership including Hamas, he said.
Mladenov along with Egypt has worked intensity over the last months with Hamas, Israel and the Palestinian Authority to restore calm to the Gaza border, as violence there threatens to spark a new war.
When asked by Army Radio if Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza enclave, had been close to war in the last months, he said, “to many times and to close for anyone’s comfort.”
Mladneov added that, “today I was looking at some of the numbers. There were certain days in July and in August and most recently in the last escalation [earlier this month] where we saw more rockets out of Gaza than in the whole of last year.”
Part of the issue, Mladenov explained, was a deteriorating humanitarian situation. Mladenov made reference to a mechanism set up in the fall to allow Qatari-funded fuel into Gaza for its power plant to alleviate the electricity crisis.
He attributed the drop in violence along the border to that fuel. Earlier this month, Qatar gave $15 million in cash to Gaza to pay for civil servant salaries.
On Tuesday, Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US tweeted, “We have seen particularly over the last month that as electricity supplies increased through this UN mechanism that was set up after the summer, we saw practically – [but] not immediately – over a few weeks, a reduction in the security incidents in Gaza.”
The next day, the Qatar Embassy in Belgium tweeted, “#Qatar is committed to finding a peaceful resolution in #Gaza and is working hand-in-hand with #Israel and the @UN to protect the human rights and dignity of Palestinians.”
On Army Radio Thursday, Mladenov spoke of what he described as a threephase approach to a cease fire understanding in Gaza that included the de-escalation of tensions, a mechanism for improved humanitarian aid and the reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah.
“No discussions and no negotiations can happen if everyone functions under the pressure of ‘will we go to war next Friday?’” Mladenov said.
“Leaders need the space to carve out agreements and compromises,” he added.
Not everything can be done at the same time, Mladenov said, explaining that negotiating the return of the remains of two Israelis soldiers from Gaza and the release of two citizens held captive there, can only happen at a later stage in the process.
He urged their families to be patient, even though he said he understood that it was not easy to do so.
Mladenov, who is a strong advocate of a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said that he still believes that peace is possible between Israelis and Palestinians.
“I can see how Israelis and Palestinians can live together in peace and security with the rest of the region,” Mladenov explained.
“What I would say to everyone is do not give up. You need to have the leadership, the will and the support from the international community to reach such an agreement, he said.
Mladenov warned against “forces out there who do not want to see Palestinians and Israelis living side by side.”