Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you Under Secretary-General Feltman for your briefing.
The United States is deeply concerned about the rocket attacks by Hamas and the dangerous escalation of hostilities in the region. In particular, we are concerned about the devastating impact of this crisis on both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.
President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning to reaffirm the United States’ strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself. As President Obama said today, “no nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders or terrorists tunneling into its territory.” In just the last two weeks, Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza have launched more than 1,500 rockets toward population centers in Israel. Hamas’ attacks are unacceptable and would be unacceptable to any member state of the United Nations. Israel has the right to defend its citizens and prevent these attacks.
President Obama also said today that we are deeply concerned about the potential loss of more innocent lives. It is important that everything possible is done to prevent civilian casualties, as well as to mitigate the suffering of innocent men, women, and children.
The consequences of the rising violence are plain for all of us to see, and they are heart-wrenching. We feel profound anguish upon seeing the images of suffering from Gaza, including the deaths and injuries of innocent Palestinian civilians, including young children, and the displacement of thousands of people. Israeli civilians, including the elderly and children alike, are fleeing to shelters with little warnings to escape the barrage of rockets from Gaza. This is no way for anyone to live – not Palestinians, not Israelis.
The four Palestinian boys playing on the beach in Gaza City were like boys everywhere, restless for play. Their deaths are heartbreaking, and the loss their family members and neighbors must feel today must be searing. And the Israeli authorities have opened an investigation into their deaths.
The devastating consequences of this conflict make it all the more disturbing that Hamas has squandered the serious efforts by Egypt to broker a ceasefire. A cessation of violence would have offered civilians on both sides a chance for peace but Hamas continued its rocket attacks.
As we have repeatedly stated, the United States is committed to finding a diplomatic solution to stop the ongoing violence. As President Obama made clear earlier today, we believe there should be a return to the ceasefire that was reached in November 2012.
To this end, we are committed to supporting Egypt’s ceasefire proposal. That is why Secretary of State Kerry is working with our regional partners to try to bring about a cessation of hostilities, and is prepared to travel to the region following additional consultations.
Until that ceasefire is reached, we need to do everything within our power to assist the civilians caught in the middle of the violence. We are grateful for the five-hour humanitarian pause negotiated by Special Coordinator Serry yesterday. It provided a critically important window for the United Nations, humanitarian and medical workers, and others to reach the wounded, displaced, and most vulnerable. It allowed time for some crucial infrastructure repairs to improve access to basic services. And it offered a brief reprieve for some of the people most affected by this conflict.
But let’s be clear: a humanitarian pause is just that – a pause. It is a brief stop in an otherwise persistent and often overwhelming stream of violence, which has inflicted suffering and terror on civilians. A pause is no substitute for a cease-fire, which is what is needed.
Indeed, what was already a very troubling humanitarian situation in Gaza is rapidly deteriorating. There are widespread shortages of water, food, electricity, and medicine. The United Nations, humanitarian organizations, and regular Palestinian citizens are all doing tremendous work to assist those in need – from opening their homes to the displaced, to delivering emergency rations to those in the hardest-to-reach places. But the situation is grave and getting worse.
Until a ceasefire is reached, we call on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and to respect and protect humanitarian and medical facilities, including those of the United Nations.
This week, the UN in Gaza discovered 20 rockets that had been put in one of its schools. The UN quickly removed the rockets and roundly condemned the action. Such tactics are indefensible. We condemn in the strongest terms this immoral, unlawful, and dangerous use of schools and hospitals for military purposes, which endangers some of society’s most vulnerable members: children and the sick.
No family – Palestinian or Israeli – should have to live in perpetual fear of being unsafe in their own homes. No children – Israeli or Palestinian – should be kept awake at night by the sounds of rockets and gunfire, or to be prevented from going to school because it’s too dangerous to venture outside. No people want to live like this. It is outrageous that they are being forced to.
The only way to end this situation is an immediate cessation of rocket fire from Gaza and a de-escalation in hostilities. That is what we are calling for today.
The recent surge in violence escalated with the kidnapping and senseless murder of three Israeli boys, which was followed by the kidnapping and senseless murder of a Palestinian boy. When news of the Palestinian boy’s killing reached the mother of one of the Israeli victims, she said: “No mother or father should go through what we are going [through] now.”
She is right. Too much innocent blood has been shed. The suffering of innocent civilians must come to an end. Thank you.
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