NEW YORK CITY: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday condemned Israeli authorities for their excessive use of force during a two-day raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank this week.
At least 12 Palestinians were killed during the operation, including five children. In addition, more than 4,000 were forced to flee, and houses, apartment buildings and other infrastructure were damaged.
Guterres said he was disturbed by news reports from Jenin and added: “I strongly condemn all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror. Israel’s airstrikes and ground operations in a crowded refugee camp were the worst violence in the West Bank in many years.”
Asked to clarify whether his condemnation explicitly applied to Israel and its actions, he said “it applies to the use of excessive force, and obviously in this situation there was an excessive force used by Israeli forces.”
He added: “I once again call on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law, including the duty to exercise restraint and use only proportional force, and the duty to minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life.”
Guterres said “the use of airstrikes is inconsistent with the conduct of law-enforcement operations. I also remind Israel, as the occupying power, that it has a responsibility to ensure that the civilian population is protected against all acts of violence.”
While he said he understands “Israel’s legitimate concerns over its security,” he stressed that “escalation is not the answer (as) it simply bolsters radicalization and leads to a deepening cycle of violence and bloodshed.”
He continued: “Restoring the hope of the Palestinian people in a meaningful political process, leading to a two-state solution and the end of the occupation, is an essential contribution by Israel to its own security.”
On Wednesday, Palestine’s ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, urged the international community not to act like “it is business as usual” in the aftermath of the Jenin assault.
He told Arab News in New York that he expects “some practical steps, things that are different than the usual reiterating of positions and convening of meetings and issuing statements. We need to see some practical steps.”
Mansour’s calls for meaningful action came during a flurry of diplomatic activity he initiated at the UN, which included meetings with the secretary-general, the president of the Security Council, and a group of Arab ambassadors, including those from Yemen, Lebanon and the Arab League.
Guterres said it was “not realistic to think that we can have a military force sent to Israel. I don’t think the Israeli government would consent on that possibility. But I think we need to find mechanisms to allow for the protection of civilians in these dramatic circumstances.”
UN human rights experts on Wednesday said that Israel’s actions in Jenin represented “egregious violations of international law and standards on the use of force, and may constitute a war crime.”
During the raid, which was described as the fiercest assault since the destruction of the Jenin camp in 2002, ambulance crews reportedly were denied access, thereby preventing injured people from receiving medical assistance.
All injured people must have access to medical care, said Guterres, as he called for humanitarian workers to be allowed to reach everyone in need of help.