A senior U.N. official said Monday that a tenuous cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants is holding, as it enters a second day.
“I want to make the council aware of the following: the cease-fire is fragile,” U.N. Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland told Security Council members from Jerusalem. “Any resumption of hostilities will only have devastating consequences for Palestinians and Israelis and make any political progress on key issues elusive."
The council convened Monday in an emergency session at the request of China, France, Ireland, Norway and the United Arab Emirates to discuss intensive violence that erupted Friday as Israel carried out strikes on Islamic Jihad positions in the Gaza Strip.
The militants responded, firing more than a thousand rockets at Israel.
Wennesland put the initial toll at 46 Palestinians killed, including 15 children and four women. Another 360 were injured. On the Israeli side, 70 people were injured. Many houses sustained damage, and several were destroyed.
The envoy welcomed the truce that went into effect late Sunday. It was secured through Egyptian and U.N. mediation, with assistance from Qatar, the United States, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, to de-escalate the situation.
“Together, these efforts helped prevent the outbreak of a full-scale war and allowed for the delivery of much-needed humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza starting earlier today,” Wennesland said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the cease-fire announcement Sunday and called on all sides to abide by the agreement.
Senior Palestinian militants killed
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan said his government acted pre-emptively Friday “moments before” an imminent terrorist attack.
“We took action solely to protect our civilians and defend our country,” Gilad told the council. “Any other claim is a flat out lie.”
The Israel Defense Forces said they killed senior Islamic Jihad leaders, including Khaled Mansour and Tayseer Jabari.
“Israel acted only against the terrorists of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” Gilad said. “Not against the people of Gaza, not against Hamas and not against the Palestinian Authority. Only against the PIJ."
In what was the worst military escalation in more than a year, Israel said the militants fired around 1,100 rockets at their territory — most of which its Iron Dome system stopped. Israel says about 200 others fell short and struck inside the Gaza Strip, causing some of the Palestinian casualties. Israel’s army, the IDF, said it hit at least 170 militant targets.
Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour said Israel’s right to security has become “a license to kill and it must be revoked.”
“In three days we lost 15 children,” he said, noting that one of them, a 5-year-old girl, had, in her brief lifetime, survived two wars, but died in the third.
“Israel kills our people because it can; when will the world show them they cannot?” he asked council members.
He said the continuous cycles of violence are not sustainable and urged the Security Council to act on their existing resolutions to advance a two-state solution.
“Your actions need to be determined by the outcome you are seeking,” he said.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield urged the 15-nation council to “unconditionally repudiate the terrorism of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” She said Washington and many other governments have designated it as a terror organization and she described it as an Iranian proxy group. She said the group had delayed the implementation of the truce.
“We hope that the cease-fire holds. And we will continue working to prevent further violence,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “And we all know that the best way to achieve lasting peace is through a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
During his visit to the region last month, President Joe Biden reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to a two-state solution.
The Israeli offensive led to the total closure of two critical crossing points into Gaza for six days.
“Gaza was on the brink of a humanitarian collapse last evening when the cease-fire came into effect,” U.N. envoy Wennesland said, noting that basic food, medical supplies and fuel were unable to enter the strip.
On Saturday, Gaza’s only power plant shut down because it ran out of fuel, causing rolling power outages of more than 20 hours per day and impacting homes, hospitals, water desalination and wastewater treatment plants.
Wennesland said the cease-fire has led to the reopening of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings, and as of 8 p.m. local time Monday, 23 fuel trucks had entered Gaza, enabling the power plant to resume normal operations.