Tensions mount in Middle East as UN reiterates need for ‘maximum restraint’
According to news reports, as yet unidentified militants fired a barrage of rockets across the border, forcing Israeli civilians to seek shelter, and wounding at least two people.
Avoid unilateral action
“Concerning the situation between Lebanon and Israel, I can tell you that we condemn the multiple rockets being fired from Lebanon into northern Israel today”, said UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, briefing reporters at UN Headquarters in New York.
He said that the The UN Interim Force in Lebanon UNIFIL, “remains in contact with authorities on both sides” of the Blue Line – the frontier set by the UN in 2000 for the purposes of confirming Israeli withdrawal following its invasion of southern Lebanon.
Mr. Dujarric urge the parties to liaise with UN peacekeepers “and avoid any unilateral action that could further escalate the situation.”
Wider escalation ‘must be avoided’
In a tweet, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, also condemned the launch of “indiscriminate rockets” from Lebanon, which he said was the largest incursion by rocket fire since 2006.
“It is unacceptable and must stop. A wider escalation must be avoided“, he added.
The latest developments in the north, added to tension between Israelis and Palestinians over security and access to a site holy to both Jews and Muslims alike, the Al-Aqsa mosque complex – which is the third most revered site in Islam, and home to the central mosque also known to Palestinians as Al-Qibli.
On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that he had been “shocked and appalled” by images of violence between Israeli security forces and Palestinian worshippers, inside the mosque that day.
Israeli forces stormed the Al-Qibli mosque overnight, arresting hundreds of people, amid chaotic scenes of beatings, and fireworks being let off.
‘Blatantly excessive’ use of force – independent expert
On Thursday, the UN Human Rights Council-appointed independent expert on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, condemned what she termed the “violent incursions” by Israeli forces on the compound overall, and attacks on worshippers inside the mosque.
“As Palestinian Muslims gathered for Ramadan prayers exercising their right to worship in Al-Aqsa Mosque, Israeli authorities used blatantly excessive and unjustified force against them,” said Special Rapporteur, Francesca Albanese.
She said at least 31 Palestinians had been reportedly injured during Wednesday’s raid, adding that paramedics had allegedly been prevented from providing medical treatment to the wounded.
In a press release, she said that Israeli forces had violently entered the mosque, according to initial accounts, used stun grenades and tear gas, fired sponge-tipped bullets, and indiscriminately beat Muslim worshippers with batons and rifle butts.
She said that at least 450 Palestinian men were reportedly arrested, and some were kicked and slapped by escorting soldiers as they were led out.
‘Reckless and unlawful’
Ms. Albanese deplored the “reckless and unlawful” actions of Israeli forces, which reportedly allowed some 165 Jewish Israelis to enter the compound, in violation of the Status Quo Agreement, which she indicated that Israel was “bound to respect”.
“The well-known desire of Israeli settlers to either destroy the mosque or forcibly convert all or part of the compound into a synagogue, as happened to the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, is a source of deep anxiety among Palestinians,” she said.
She added that it was “imperative that all parties comply with international law, without exception…Failure to do so fuels and perpetuates the culture of injustice and impunity.”
Special Rapporteurs like Ms. Albanese, and other UN Human Rights Council-appointed independent experts, are mandated to monitor and report on specific thematic issues or country situations. They are not UN staff and do not receive any compensation for their work.