As Iran’s presidential vote looms, tensions boil over renewed headscarf crackdown

UN warns of ‘catastrophic’ threat to region if Israel-Hezbollah fighting escalates

NEW YORK: The UN on Tuesday expressed serious concern about the risk of an escalation in fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, warning that it would not only cause further suffering and devastation to the people of Lebanon and Israel, but also “more potentially catastrophic . consequences for the region.”

Tor Wennesland, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East, urged both sides to take urgent and immediate measures to defuse the situation.

Tensions along the border between Israel and Lebanon continue to rise. Cross-border exchanges of fire have increased in recent weeks, prompting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to warn that the risk of the conflict spreading to the wider region “is real and must be avoided”.

Wennesland was speaking during a Security Council meeting to discuss the implementation of Resolution 2334, which was adopted in 2016 and calls for an end to all Israeli settlement activities, immediate measures to prevent violence and acts of terror against civilians, and calls on both sides to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.

Wennesland said he was “deeply disturbed” by the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and reiterated that all settlements “have no legal validity and are in flagrant violation of international law.” He called on Israel to immediately stop this activity.

Rising violence and tensions in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are also deeply concerning, Wennesland said.

“Intensified armed exchanges between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, along with lethal attacks by Palestinians against Israelis and Israeli settlers against Palestinians, have also exacerbated tensions and resulted in extremely high levels of casualties and detentions. All the perpetrators of the attacks must be held accountable,” he added.

Wennesland blamed the ongoing hostilities in Gaza for regional instability and stressed the need for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages and an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

“There is a deal on the table and it should be agreed upon,” he told council members. “I welcome the efforts, including by Egypt, Qatar and the United States, to reach such an agreement.”

He lamented that effective mechanisms in Israel to provide humanitarian notifications, safe conditions for humanitarian operations and sufficient access for aid workers to respond to humanitarian needs remain “severely lacking and must be implemented without delay”.

Wennesland added: “Hunger and food insecurity persist. While predictions of impending famine in northern governments were averted by an increase in food supplies, food insecurity worsened in the south.

“Nearly the entire population of Gaza continues to face high levels of food insecurity, with nearly half a million people facing ‘catastrophic’ insecurity.

Senior UN officials told Israeli authorities on Tuesday that they would suspend aid operations in the stricken enclave unless urgent measures were taken to protect aid workers.

The UN’s World Food Program has already suspended aid deliveries from a US-built jetty in Gaza due to security concerns. This comes at a time when the quantities of essential goods allowed into Gaza continue to fall far below the population’s needs, Wennesland said.

The Palestinian Authority’s fiscal situation remains “very precarious,” he added. Israel’s finance minister announced his intention to continue blocking the transfer of all clearance proceeds to the PA and to take steps to end relations between Israeli and Palestinian banks at the end of June.

Such moves, Wennesland said, “threaten to plunge the Palestinian fiscal situation into an even greater crisis, potentially wrecking the entire Palestinian financial system.”

Meanwhile, Maximo Torero, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s chief economist, warned on Tuesday of the “extreme risk of famine” in Gaza. He said the latest studies reveal that more than half of the population has no food stocks in their homes and more than 20 percent go whole days and nights without eating.

In northern Gaza, Torero said, 75,000 people, a quarter of the population, face catastrophic levels of food insecurity, and 150,000 face emergency levels of food insecurity.

In southern Gaza, including the Rafah area, more than 350,000 people, a fifth of the population, are affected by catastrophic levels of food insecurity, and about 525,000 emergency levels.

In response to these findings, humanitarian organization CARE’s acting country director for the West Bank and Gaza, Daw Mohammed, said: “The process of determining the difference between ‘famine’ or ‘catastrophic food insecurity’ is also irrelevant to Palestinians in Gaza. many of them starved to death or would never fully recover from the ravages of famine.

“The scale and intensity of hostilities, as we enter the ninth month of hell for the people of Gaza, make data collection a life-threatening exercise and survival in an hourly battle. Instead of waiting for a famine determination, we must heed the call of humanity and act now.

“We need an immediate and sustained ceasefire, a massive increase in the safe flow of aid and humanitarian workers into and around Gaza City, access to water, fuel and basic medical services for all people and the release of all hostages. There is no time to wait.”

During the Security Council meeting, the US representative to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, accused Hamas of rejecting a US-backed ceasefire agreement.

“Hamas has avoided calls from this council and ignored the voices of the entire international community,” she said. “In fact, instead of accepting the agreement, Hamas added even more conditions.

“It is time to end Hamas’s intransigence, start a ceasefire and release the hostages.”

His Russian counterpart, Vassily Nebenzia, said the US-backed Resolution 2735, which calls for a ceasefire and was adopted on June 10, was sold to the Security Council “under the guise of a solution to save Gaza. This kind of ‘cat in a bag’, as I warned, turned out to be a dead letter.”

He added: “What’s worse, a blatant lie has crept into the Security Council resolution; it explicitly states that Israel agreed to the peace proposal of the international mediators. However, in West Jerusalem this has yet to be confirmed and they repeat this at the same time as announcing their decisive intention to completely destroy Hamas.

“Ultimately, none of the phases set out in Resolution 2735 have been implemented. The council was essentially dragged blindly into a misadventure and moved to bless a scheme which, from the outset, had no chance of being implemented.

“We urge members of the Security Council, going forward, to take a more conscientious approach to those decisions they support and to think about their real content.”

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