Why the Oslo Accords failed to put Palestinians on the path to statehood

Special Why the Oslo Accords failed to put Palestinians on the path to statehood
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US President Bill Clinton stood between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, right, and Israeli PM Yitzak Rabin Rabin, left, on Sept.13, 1993, at the White House in Washington DC, after signing the Oslo accords. (AFP/File)
Special Why the Oslo Accords failed to put Palestinians on the path to statehood
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Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (2nd-r), along with US President Bill Clinton and Middle East leaders, gather at the White House for the signing of the West Bank autonomy agreement between Israel and the PLO. (AFP/File)
Special Why the Oslo Accords failed to put Palestinians on the path to statehood
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Israeli Peace Now activists watch on a big screen the historic hand shake between Israel's late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the presence of US President Bill Clinton at the White House in 1993, during a rally in Jerusalem's Old City 13 September 2000. (AFP)
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Updated 05 May 2024
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Why the Oslo Accords failed to put Palestinians on the path to statehood

Why the Oslo Accords failed to put Palestinians on the path to statehood
  • A memento being offered for sale was apparently torn from White House program for the Sept. 13, 1993, signing ceremony
  • Timing of sale amid Gaza war ironic in that the document is reminder of a conflict that has raged unresolved since 1948

LONDON: Monday, Sept. 13, 1993, was a sunny day in Washington and, for those gathered on the lawn of the White House, it seemed that a bright new era had dawned in the fraught relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.

The occasion was the formal signing of the Oslo Accords, a declaration of principles on interim Palestinian self-government that had been agreed in the Norwegian capital the previous month by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

It was a historic moment, and it produced a remarkable photograph that claimed its rightful place on the front pages of newspapers around the world: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat smiling and shaking hands in front of a beaming US President Bill Clinton.




In this photo taken on Sept. 13, 1993, world leaders, dignitaries and peace advocates attend the historic signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestine at the White House lawn in Washington. (AFP/File)

With ironic timing, given the current tragedy unfolding in Gaza 30 years later, a unique memento of that day is being offered for sale by the Raab Collection, a US company that specializes in the buying and selling of important historical documents and autographs.

The single piece of paper, embossed with the golden seal of the President of the United States, and apparently torn from the White House program for the signing ceremony, is signed by all the key players on that hopeful day.




A unique memento of Monday, Sept. 13, 1993, is being offered for sale by the Raab Collection. The single piece of paper, embossed with the golden seal of the US president, and apparently torn from the White House program for the Oslo Accords signing ceremony, is signed by all the key players on that hopeful day. The document is offered for sale at $35,000. (Supplied)

According to Raab, which declines to reveal who put the document up for sale, it was “acquired from the archives of one of the important participants at the event.”

Each of the seven signatures has great value for any student of politics and history — here are the hands of Arafat, Rabin, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli President Shimon Peres, US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, whose country had co-sponsored the 1991 Madrid Conference that set the stage for the Oslo Accords.

Taken together, they offer a bittersweet reminder of a moment when, in the words that day of an ebullient Clinton, “we dare to pledge what for so long seemed difficult even to imagine: That the security of the Israeli people will be reconciled with the hopes of the Palestinian people and there will be more security and more hope for all.”




PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat (2nd-R) and Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin (2nd-L) sign a Palestinian autonomy accord in the West Bank during ceremonies at the white House in Washington, DC, on September 1995. (AFP/File)

Rather like a rare stamp, the value of which is increased by a printing anomaly, the document includes a curious discrepancy. It was signed on Sept. 13, the day of the White House ceremony, but only two of the signatories added the date to their signature. While Abbas wrote the correct date, the 13th, Arafat dated his signature the 14th.

The document is offered for sale at $35,000, but in political terms, with the hope expressed that day by Clinton that it was the gateway to “a continuing process in which the parties transform the very way they see and understand each other,” it is worthless.

INNUMBERS

• 10 Israeli prime ministers since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.

• 4 Palestinian prime ministers since creation of the post in 2013.

As a reminder of the seemingly intractable nature of a conflict that has raged unresolved since 1948, the 30-year-old document is priceless.

One of the witnesses on the White House lawn that September day in 1993 was philosopher Jerome M. Segal, a peace activist who in the spring of 1987 had been part of the first American-Jewish delegation to meet with the PLO leadership.




Jerome M. Segal, a philosopher and founder of the Jewish Peace Lobby, was part of the first American-Jewish delegation to meet with the PLO leadership in 1987. (Supplied)

The following year Segal played a key role in negotiations that led to the opening of a dialogue between the US and the PLO, and a series of essays he published is credited with having informed the PLO’s decision to issue a Declaration of Independence and launch a unilateral peace initiative in 1988.

In 1993, as he watched Arafat and Rabin shaking hands, Segal, the founder of the Jewish Peace Lobby, had good reason to think that the elusive prize of peace might actually be within grasp.

Four days before the signing, Arafat and Rabin had exchanged letters, the former renouncing violence and acknowledging Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, and the latter recognizing the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and committing to peace negotiations.




Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Sept. 13, 1993, White House South Lawn ceremony. Each of the seven signatures on the document has great value for any student of politics and history. (AFP file photo)

It was agreed that a new Palestinian National Authority would be formed, and would assume governing responsibilities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

After five years, “permanent status” talks would be held to forge agreement on key issues to pave the way for the creation of a future Palestinian state, including borders, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and the status of Jerusalem.

But Segal, and everyone else imbued with optimism on that bright September day, was to be disappointed. 




PLO political director Mahmoud Abbas (2nd R) signs the historic Israel-PLO Oslo Accords on Palestinian autonomy in the occupied territories on September 13, 1993 in a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C. as (from L to R) Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, unidentified aide, US President Bill Clinton and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat look on. (AFP/File)

Many reasons have been proposed for the withering of the olive branch of Oslo, but according to Israeli-British historian Avi Shlaim, writing in 2005, “the fundamental cause behind the loss of trust and the loss of momentum was the Israeli policy of expanding settlements on the West Bank, which carried on under Labour as well as Likud.”

This policy — which continues to blight relations between Israel and the Palestinians to this day — “precluded the emergence of a viable Palestinian state, without which there can be no end to the conflict.”

In a terrible pre-echo of the provocative visits to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound carried out recently by some of the right-wing members of Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, Ariel Sharon, while campaigning to become Israel’s prime minister in September 2000, made a similarly controversial visit to the site.




Israeli security officers escort right-wing opposition leader Ariel Sharon (C) out of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City on September 28, 2000, as his intrusion into Islam's third holiest shrine provoked a riot, leaving 29 people hurt and leaving peace efforts in tatters. (AFP)

The result was an outbreak of violent protests by outraged Palestinians. The Second Intifada would last almost five years and claim thousands of lives.

For Segal, director of the International Peace Consultancy, the failure of Oslo owes less to the supposed intransigence of the PLO over the years than to the internal dynamics of Israeli politics.

“The thing to realize about Oslo is that since 1993, the Palestinians have had only two leaders, Arafat and Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas, the second and current president of Palestine),” he told Arab News.

“Their positions on final status were almost identical, so there has been a consistency on the Palestinian side of a willingness to end the conflict and recognize the State of Israel — even through the Second Intifada, that never changed, and it’s still there today.

“But on the Israeli side, we’ve had enormous flip-flops, from Rabin, to Peres, to Netanyahu, to Ehud Barak, to Ariel Sharon, to Ehud Olmert, and back again to Netanyahu.”

The precarious nature of peace talks for Israeli politicians was underlined in November 1995 when, just two years after shaking Arafat’s hand, Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli extremist opposed to the Oslo Accords. 




World leaders stand behind the late Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin's coffin during his funeral at the Jerusalem Mount Herzl military cemetery on November 6, 1995. (ZOOM 77 photo via AFP)

“After Rabin’s death we have only had two Israeli prime ministers, Barak and Olmert, who have gone into serious final-status negotiations with the Palestinians,” said Segal.

Barak, who beat Netanyahu in the polls by a wide margin to become prime minister in 1999, “did it in a terrible context — the Second Intifada had already started.”

In 2000, Barak took part with Arafat in the Camp David Summit, which ended without agreement. As the violence continued in 2001, Barak stood for reelection as prime minister, losing to Ariel Sharon, one of the founders of Israel’s right-wing Likud party.




US President Bill Clinton (L) watches as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (C) confers with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (R) on July 11, 2000 at the Camp David presidential retreat in Thumont, Maryland. (AFP/File)

In 2006, Sharon was succeeded by Ehud Olmert, leader of the more liberal Kadima party. By 2009 he too would be gone, enmeshed in a series of corruption allegations and succeeded by Netanyahu.

“So, in the entire period since 1993, we’ve actually had only two Israeli prime ministers, and for a combined total of not more than three years, under whom there was a serious effort to pursue the final negotiations envisioned by Oslo,” Segal said.

That, he added, “leads to a very interesting question: Why, with the promise of ending the conflict, does the Israeli public regularly elect prime ministers who aren’t interested, like Netanyahu — why, as I heard Avi Gill (a former director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs) put it, do Israelis poll left, but vote right?”




Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's (L) appointment of far-right politician Bezalel Smotrich, a leader of landgrabbers, has only helped scupper any chance for peaceful co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis. (AFP photo/File)

The answer, Segal believes, “is because they don’t believe they are losing anything by doing so.”

Ironically, given the unwillingness of every Israeli leader since Olmert to compromise in the interest of peace, “even though they would support the two-state solution, they don’t believe there’s a Palestinian partner who will. In their mind they’re not losing a conflict-ending agreement they might get if they had a left-wing leader, so they end up going for Mr. Security.”

This, believes Segal, is a crucial factor in the ongoing failure to find the peace that seemed so close in 1993.

“You have to deal with this, what I call ‘no-partnerism,’ the dogma that there is not, and has never been, a Palestinian partner for peace, because this is not just a Netanyahu thesis. It’s one that’s deep in the belief structure of the majority of Israelis.

On Oct. 6, the eve of the Hamas-led attack on Israel, Segal was optimistic that a breakthrough was close.

In his book “The Olive Branch from Palestine,” published in 2022, he had urged “a Palestinian return to unilateral peacemaking, with the Palestinians taking the lead in establishing ... a UN commission through which the Palestinians would advance, in full detail, without any ambiguity, the end-of-conflict, end-of-claims agreement that they are prepared to sign.”

This he dubbed UNSCOP-2, an allusion to the UN committee formed in 1947, which proposed the original partition plan for Palestine.

“On Oct. 6, I believed that we could get major changes through the UNSCOP-2 process. I believed that a committee could be created in a matter of months, that all I had to do was to get Abu Mazen across the line, to get him to go from calling on the secretary general of the UN to do something to doing something himself in the General Assembly, and we could move very rapidly.

“We talked to many countries at the UN. We even talked to Iran, and nobody was opposed. I believed that we could then put in front of the Israeli public something that in decades of conflict they have never had, which is a Palestinian ‘Yes’.”

By training a philosopher, Segal remains philosophical, despite the disastrous events of the past seven months.

“On Oct. 6, I was optimistic for the short term. Now I see the timeframe is very different, but I do have proposals. Our approach after Oct. 7 is what you could call ‘Gaza-first’.”




Israelis light 25,000 candles at Rabin Square in the Israeli coastal city Tel Aviv, on October 29, 2020, ahead of the 25th anniversary of the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Rabin was gunned down in Tel Aviv after a peace rally on November 4, 1995 by a right-wing Jewish extremist Yigal Amir. (AFP)

This is the reawakening of a plan first proposed by Segal in 1995 at the request of Israeli Prime Minister Peres — the idea that while granting Palestinians sovereignty over the West Bank might be an initial step too far for most Israelis, an experiment in Palestinian statehood limited at first to Gaza might win their confidence and, ultimately, lead to an Arab state that includes the West Bank.

In 1995, it was Arafat who rejected the plan, fearing not unreasonably that “Gaza first” would come to be “Gaza last,” with the PLO confined to the coastal strip in perpetuity, even though “I presented a 20-point proposal designed to give the PLO confidence that they wouldn’t get stuck in Gaza.”

The reason, Segal believes, is because Oslo was still alive, and it made sense for the PLO to hold out for what would prove to be the illusory promise of final-status talks.

Now his view is that “Gaza first” offers the only realistic hope of progress.

As he wrote in a column for Foreign Policy on Feb. 6, in the wake of Oct. 7 “no Israeli government will ever agree to a Palestinian state in the West Bank unless ­there is substantial confidence that it will not be a threat to Israel.”




Nearly 30 years on since Israeli assassins killed the Oslo Accords, shockwaves of the conflict are being felt even in college campuses around the world. (AFP)

If there is an answer, Segal concluded, “it will require abandoning the defunct Oslo paradigm, which sees Palestinian statehood emerging as a result of successful end-of-conflict negotiations. 

“The alternative is a sovereignty-in-Gaza-first approach, to test Palestinian statehood in Gaza first and, only if it is successful over an agreed period, to then move to negotiations on extending Palestinian sovereignty to the West Bank.”

Right now, Segal’s dogged commitment to the peace process is as admirable as it is remarkable.

But, in the face of a general lack of alternative proposals, it perhaps also offers the best hope of achieving Clinton’s wish, expressed on the White House lawn over 30 years ago, that “two peoples who have both known the bitterness of exile” might “put old sorrows and antagonisms behind them ... to work for a shared future shaped by the values of the Torah, the Qur’an, and the Bible.”
 

 


Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school
Updated 15 July 2024
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Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school
  • The Abu Araban school was housing “thousands of displaced people,” civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP, adding that most of the dead were women and children

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The civil defense agency in Hamas-run Gaza said Sunday that 15 people were killed in a strike on a school sheltering war displaced where the Israeli military said it had targeted “terrorists.”
The strike on the UN-run Abu Araban site in central Gaza’s Nuseirat camp was the fifth on a school-turned-shelter in eight days.
The Abu Araban school was housing “thousands of displaced people,” civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP, adding that most of the dead were women and children.
Schools in Nuseirat were the target for two of the earlier school strikes as Israel keeps up its offensive against Hamas Palestinian militants who triggered the war with their October 7 attack on Israel.
The Israeli military said its air force “struck a number of terrorists who were operating in the area of UNRWA’s Abu Araban school building in Nuseirat.”
It said the building had “served as a hideout” and base for “attacks” on Israeli troops.
AFPTV images showed the three-story complex standing, with clothes and bedding airing out over its railings. A wall bearing the UN logo had been blown out, and rooms inside were damaged.
On July 6, Israeli aircraft hit Al-Jawni school, also run by the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), in Nuseirat. UNRWA said about 2,000 people were sheltering there at the time.
The following day, four people died in a strike on the church-run Holy Family school in Gaza City, in the territory’s north, according to the Civil Defense agency.
On Monday, Israel hit another Nuseirat school, again saying it was targeting “terrorists.”
The next day, a hospital source said at least 29 people died in a strike at the entrance to Al-Awda school in the Khan Yunis area, southern Gaza.
Israel says Hamas uses schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure for military purposes. Hamas denies the accusation.
France and Germany on Wednesday called for an investigation into the school strikes.
After the Al-Jawni strike, UNRWA spokesperson Juliette Touma told AFP that when the war began “we closed the schools and they became shelters.”
UNRWA is the main relief agency in Gaza but more than half, or 190, of its facilities have been hit — “some more than once” — in the military response to the October 7 Hamas attacks, she said.
 

 


As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel
Updated 14 July 2024
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As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel
  • About 20 percent of Israel’s 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian

TEL AVIV: Comedian Ayman Nahas said he has kept a “low profile” since Oct. 7, fearing reprisals as an Arab artist in Israel while the country wages war in the Gaza Strip.
He is one of many Arab artists in Israel or annexed East Jerusalem who describe facing increasing hostility and harassment and fearing looming funding cuts or arrests.
“You never know where your place is, and that is not the right atmosphere to perform,” said Nahas, the artistic director at the Arabic-language Sard theater in Haifa, in Israel’s north.
He said that his theater depends on government subsidies “like 99 percent of cultural spaces” in Israel.
But he fears the money could be cut, as happened in 2015 to Al-Midan, another theater in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Haifa, after it put on a play inspired by the story of a prisoner jailed by Israel over an attack on troops.
One 25-year-old performer, who asked to use the pseudonym Elias to avoid a backlash, said he has put acting aside and became a swimming pool attendant because he was fed up with only getting stereotyped roles.
Other Arab actors say that since the war, they can no longer find work in Israel. Elias has finally found a role in Berlin.
“I have had to go into exile to practice my art,” he said in a Tel Aviv cafe.
“I don’t wear my ‘Free Palestine’ bracelet anymore, and I take care of what I put on social media. I have friends who the police have visited.”
Nonprofit group Mossawa has documented an increase in human rights violations against Israel’s Arab minority since October, including arrests, discrimination at work, and harassment at schools, as well as curbs on the right to protest.
Singer Dalal Abu Amneh, who is also a neuroscientist, was detained for 48 hours for a social media post after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack that said “the only victor is God.”
Abu Amneh later said she had been harassed in her Jewish-majority hometown of Afula in northern Israel. Her lawyer said she had received hundreds of “death threats.”
About 20 percent of Israel’s 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian.
They say they are frequently the targets of discrimination by the Jewish majority, and those complaints have grown through more than nine months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Huda Imam, who promotes Palestinian cultural sites in Jerusalem, said that “a cultural silence has taken hold since Oct. 7.”
“There has been a shock, an inability to produce out of fear and respect” for the war’s victims, she added.
“There was a Palestinian cultural life before the war, especially in east Jerusalem,” Imam said, referring to the sector Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognized by most of the international community.
“Now people don’t go out.”
And it is primarily exiles “who give a voice to Palestine,” said Imam, highlighting the rapper Saint Levant, who played at the Coachella music festival in the US in April, and the European-based singer and flute player Nai Barghouti.
Palestinians still express themselves through their “living heritage, like drinking coffee or dancing dabkeh,” a traditional dance, said artist Hani Amra.
Some artists wondered about the relevance of their work now.
“You turn on the television, and you see the war live. The reality is more powerful than any artistic work,” Amer Khalil, the director of east Jerusalem’s Al-Hakawati, also known as the Palestinian National Theater.
The theater, founded in 1984, “has been closed more than 200 times in 40 years” and is again in the crosshairs of Israeli authorities, said Khalil.
“Running a theater is always difficult, but after Oct. 7 things became even more complicated,” he said, adding that Al-Hakawati was preparing a play about that day.
“It is a game, like censorship. It comes and goes.”

 


UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps
Updated 14 July 2024
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UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps
  • The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday
  • The aid includes supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries and insulin

DUBAI: The UAE delivered three tonnes of medical supplies and a range of medicines to support the healthcare sector and hospitals still operating in the Gaza Strip, the UAE state news agency reported on Sunday.

The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday.

The medical aid includes medical supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries, insulin for diabetic patients, and other solutions to bolster the healthcare sector during the crisis.

The UAE on Sunday condemned Israel’s attack on refugee camps in Khan Younis, which claimed the lives of 100 people.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday expressed its strongest condemnation and denunciation of what it termed “continued genocidal massacres against the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli war machine.”


Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth

Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth
Updated 14 July 2024
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Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth

Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth
  • Its statement added expenses were estimated at 24.5 billion dinars and revenues at 18.9 billion dinars

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait's budget is projected to show a deficit of 5.6 billion dinars ($18.33 billion) for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, the Kuwait News Agency reported on Sunday citing the Ministry of Finance. 

Its statement added expenses were estimated at 24.5 billion dinars and revenues at 18.9 billion dinars.

Government spending must be fixed at 24.5 billion Kuwaiti dinars in the 2027-2028 budget to control budget growth, the ministry also said.

The liquidity of the General Reserve Fund, from which the budget deficit is financed, decreased to 2 billion dinars last March from 33.6 billion ten years ago due to increasing withdrawals, it added.


Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis

Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis
Updated 14 July 2024
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Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis

Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis
  • Egypt called on Israel to cease its disregard for the lives of unarmed civilians and to adhere to international humanitarian law

CAIRO: Egypt has condemned the Israeli airstrikes on the Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

The deaths in Al-Mawasi, an Israeli-designated “safe zone” where aid groups said hundreds of thousands of people were sheltering, drew condemnation from governments across the region.

The Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip said at least 92 people had been killed, more than half of them women and children, and 300 wounded in Saturday’s strike

In a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Emigration and Egyptian Expatriates, Egypt condemned in the strongest terms the Israeli bombing of Al-Mawasi, which is crowded with displaced people, resulting in the death and injury of dozens of innocent Palestinian civilians.

Egypt called on Israel to cease its disregard for the lives of unarmed civilians and to adhere to international humanitarian law.

It also stressed that such crimes would not be subject to a statute of limitations and could not be justified under any pretext.

Egypt emphasized that these continuous violations against Palestinian civilians add serious complications to the current efforts aimed at reaching de-escalation and a ceasefire and exacerbate their suffering amid disgraceful international silence and inaction.