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UN chief Antonio Guterres: Gaza 'on brink of war'

In report sent to UN Security Council before Tuesday meeting, UN condemns Israeli use of force against Palestinians.

2014 war

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that the "most serious escalation" of violence in the Gaza Strip places the besieged enclave on the "brink of war", urging Israel and Hamas to recommit to a 2014 ceasefire.

The UN chief said in a report obtained by news agencies that he is "shocked" by Israel's use of live fire since border protests began in Gaza on March 30.

Guterres said its military has "a responsibility to exercise maximum restraint" except as a last resort.

The report was sent to the council last week in advance of a meeting on Tuesday on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The killing of children, as well as of clearly identified journalists and medical staffers by security forces during a demonstration are particularly unacceptable," Guterres said.

"They must be allowed to perform their duties without fear of death or injury."

Israel has not yet responded to the accusations. 

Guterres also told the Security Council that he "unequivocally condemns the steps by all parties that have brought us to this dangerous and fragile place" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He warned that actions by Hamas and other Palestinian groups not only risk Palestinian and Israeli lives but "efforts to restore dignity and the prospects of a livable future for Palestinians in Gaza", citing rockets fired at Israel and attempts to breach the Gaza-Israel fence by some protesters.

Since weekly mass protests began along the Israel-Gaza border on March 30, at least 130 Palestinians have been killed and 13,000 others wounded by Israeli army fire.

The overwhelming majority of the dead and wounded have been unarmed, according to Gaza health officials. Two Palestinian journalists were killed while covering the protests in April and two medics including a 21-year-old were also shot dead in May and early June.

Independent investigation

Guterres renewed his call for an independent and transparent investigation of the shooting deaths in Gaza. Israel, which says Hamas has used the protests as cover for attacks on the border fence, has rejected the appeal and argued that the use of force is justified to defend its borders.

The marchers have pressed demands for a right of return for Palestinian refugees to their families homes which they were forced to flee 70 years ago.

More than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled in the 1948 war over Israel's creation. Two-thirds of Gaza's two million residents are internally displaced people.

He also expressed concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation and economic collapse in Gaza, marked by a "severe liquidity crisis and an acute shortage of cash".

Guterres reiterated that "there is no viable alternative to the two-state solution," with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and with Jerusalem as the capital of both states.

But he said that "only by changing the reality on the ground - by recognising and addressing the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, ensuring that all sides recommit to the 2014 ceasefire understandings, and supporting Egyptian-led efforts to restore control of the legitimate Palestinian government in Gaza - can we preserve the possibility of a viable, independent and fully representative Palestinian state and avert another disastrous, lethal conflict."

He reiterated that any unilateral step made by any party to alter the character or prejudge the final status of Jerusalem "are inconsistent with United Nations resolutions and are an obstacle to peace".

Guterres condemned the ruling made by the Israeli High Court on May 24 to demolish buildings in the Bedouin community of Khan Al Ahmar. 

"It may constitute a grave breach of international humanitarian law," Guterres said.

The secretary-general also condemned Israel's settlement activity that he says "continue unabated", highlighting Israel's decision on May 30 to approve 3,500 housing units in the West Bank - the largest batch of new housing since June 2017.

The UN considers the expansion of settlements on land earmarked for a future Palestinian state to be illegal. Guterres said the construction must "cease immediately and completely".


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