Kenya Labels Israel-Palestine Conflict 'Dark Moment', Calls for Truce

Kenya has joined the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in calling for diplomatic negotiations to achieve a solution to the escalating violence in Israel and Palestine.

The country, in the latest call for both sides to lay down the arms, is warning that the resurgence of violence between Israel and Palestine will make it harder for them to reach a two-State solution.

In a statement delivered to the UNSC on Sunday evening, Dr Martin Kimani, Kenya's Permanent Representative to the UN, warned violence was likely to produce generations angry with each other, making it difficult to address causes of the conflict.

Dr Kimani spoke during a virtual, open-debate session of the council on the Middle East, with focus on the situation in Gaza, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

He said the country is opposed to illegal settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory and called for an immediate ceasefire and cessation of violence, as the first step to a renewed push for peace.

The envoy also said the escalation of violence in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, West Bank and the Gaza Strip was - apart from taking lives - reversing progress toward the ultimate aim of a permanent and secure peace.

"We are concerned that this latest bout of violence, and particularly its touching on religious sites, will fan extremism and hatred, and that this will lead to the further erosion of the moderate middle ground on which the tough compromises required for lasting peace can be made," Amb Kimani said.

He noted that Kenya condemns violent rioting, and the exploitation of such popular anger by extremist groups.

The envoy further said that in highly emotive situations, police and military authorities should embrace de-escalation, protect lives and avoid the demolition of civilian infrastructure.

"Kenya supports all on-going international and regional efforts for peace. We call for community leaders, the business community, and the civil society in Israel and Palestine to be heard speaking up for ceasefire and dialogue."

Amb Kimani further said Kenya supports the efforts of China, Norway and Tunisia for the issuance of a timely, clear and balanced statement by the Security Council that can help de-escalate the violence and support a push for a return to peace mediation.

Kenya wants the dialogue and negotiations to be guided by the council's Resolution 2334, and Amb Kimani says that it is important that the agreed Status Quo on Jerusalem be respected.

The council's resolution 2334, passed in 2016, calls on Israel to "immediately and completely cease all settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem" and to "fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard".

Devastating consequences

Two Palestinian militant groups - Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad - on May 10 fired rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, hitting multiple residences and a school.

Israel retaliated with air strikes against Gaza, targeting multiple apartment buildings and a news office building.

The Israeli air strikes killed 10 members of an extended family and demolished the 13-floor Gaza building housing Qatar-based Al Jazeera and The Associated Press news agency, with Palestinian militants firing back rockets.

Since May 10, Israeli air and artillery strikes on Gaza have killed 145 people including 41 children. Palestinian armed groups have fired at least 2,300 rockets at Israel.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday said he was "dismayed" by civilian casualties in Gaza and "deeply disturbed" by Israel's strike on a building containing the international media outlets.

But Israel claims it is hitting at Hamas which it accuses of firing rockets at Israel.

"The enmity that produces the kind of violence occurring today only begets more violence, and more generations born into enmities whose roots are too ancient to uproot," Amb Kimani told the session.

"This dark moment calls for a renewed vision of peace, built on the insight that the present course only leads to further destruction of lives and hope."

Two-State solution

Kenya, a non-permanent member of the UNSC, has often supported a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict, based on the maps that distinguished their territories as at 1967.

Amb Kimani said violence was "reversing progress" in security in the area, and called for resumption of diplomatic negotiations that respects resolution 2334.

Passed in 2016, the resolution declared Israel's evictions as illegal and not backed by international law. It was endorsed by all council members at the time but the US abstained. Israel has, however, disregarded the resolution.

It was the first time the council had agreed to speak in one session since the violence began.

Last week, members failed to issue a joint statement once after the US vetoed. After Sunday's session chaired by China, a draft statement prepared by China, Tunisia and Norway was expected to circulated later at night. But whether all members could endorse a common call was a wait-and-see matter.

At the council on Sunday, Palestine said the council was sitting on hands as "the international consensus you have all helped shape and defend is being destroyed in front of our eyes".

"The alternative that Israel chose is apartheid. And one day, soon, even the council will not be able to deny this," said Dr Riyad Mansour, Palestine's Permanent Observer to the UN.

"Act now to end the aggression and assault on our people, our homes [and] our land. Act now so freedom can prevail, not apartheid."

The dispute began early in May after a group of Palestinian families were evicted from land they claim to be their ancestral home. The parcels in parts of East Jerusalem have been the subjects of a legal battle between Palestinians and Israelis, in Israeli courts, since the 1970s.

Israel's Permanent Representative Gilad Erdan warned the council not to send a "disturbing message by buying into Hamas propaganda"

Addressing the council, Erdan said Hamas, the Palestinian movement that governs Gaza, was attacking Israeli and hiding behind civilians, including in structures housing media houses.

Wide condemnation

Attempts to compare Israel and Hamas are factually, legally and morally wrong. Hamas targets civilians. Israel targets terrorists.

"Israel uses its missiles to protect its children, Hamas uses children to protect its missiles," Amb Kimani said.

Israel was roundly condemned on Saturday after felling a storied building housing offices of Al-Jazeera, BBC and the Associated Press. It argued the building was hosting Hamas intelligence unit.

Despite calls for a truce, Erdan suggested his country won't relent and asked the Council to support what it called war on terror.

"Members of the UNSC have a choice today - to support a more peaceful future by demanding the demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip and insisting on an authority in Gaza, that invests in the wellbeing of the people of Gaza, rather than in the destruction of the State of Israel."

During the open debate, council members called on Israel to use "proportionate" force in retaliating against Hamas. The US, UK and France also called for de-escalation.

"The United States has made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices should the parties seek a ceasefire, because we believe Israelis and Palestinians equally have a right to live in safety and security," said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the UN.

"We urge all parties to avoid actions that undermine a peaceful future. This includes avoiding incitement, violent attacks and terrorist acts, as well as evictions - including in East Jerusalem - demolitions, and settlement construction east of the 1967 lines. And critically, all parties need to uphold and respect the historic status quo at the holy sites."

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