NEW YORK: The UN Mideast envoy said on Tuesday that Israel and Hamas were “minutes away” from another “devastating confrontation” in Gaza on Saturday — a clash averted after UN and Egyptian diplomatic efforts got both sides to “step back from the brink.”
Nikolay Mladenov warned that “unless we begin in earnest the crucial work required to change the current deteriorating dynamics, another explosion is almost a certainty.”
“Only through the repeated, collective efforts of all sides has another catastrophic escalation been averted over the past weeks,” Mladenov said.
The latest outbursts of violence followed months of near-weekly border protests organized by Gaza's Hamas rulers.
Over 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire since the protests began March 30.
The protests were aimed at ending the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza that has brought severe economic hardship to the territory and demanding a “right of return” for descendants of Palestinian refugees to ancestral homes in what is now Israel.
More than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled during the 1948 Mideast war over Israel’s creation, and two-thirds of Gaza’s 2 million residents are descendants of refugees.
Israel says it is defending its sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using the protests as a cover for attempts to breach the border fence and attack Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon said flaming kites sent across the border by Hamas have destroyed over 7,400 acres — “that is half the size of Manhattan.”
He said it is time that the Security Council declares Hamas a terrorist organization like Al-Qaeda and Daesh, saying it is “holding hostage the entire population of Gaza” and its goal is to destroy Israel.
Danon again urged Hamas to release two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two soldiers.
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour said the “dire humanitarian situation has placed an explosive pressure on the infrastructure and caused loss of livelihood among the entire population of the Gaza Strip.”
He accused Israel of persisting “with its willful killing of Palestinian civilians and disregard of human life.”
Mansour said it is “imperative” that international protection be provided for Gaza’s civilian population.