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Israeli rejection of two-state solution 'unacceptable': UN, US

srael strikes key Gaza city after losing record number of soldiers in combat

By AFP

January 24, 2024 10:59 AM


UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and US Secretary of State Blinken are pictured together in a file photo.

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Israel's rejection of the idea of a two-state solution with the Palestinians is unacceptable and could prolong the war in Gaza, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday.

"Last week's clear and repeated rejection of the two-state solution at the highest levels of the Israeli government is unacceptable," Guterres said in a speech to the Security Council.

"This refusal, and the denial of the right to statehood to the Palestinian people, would indefinitely prolong a conflict that has become a major threat to global peace and security," Guterres told the meeting.

Such an outcome "would exacerbate polarization and embolden extremists everywhere," he added.

Guterres called for the universal recognition of the "right of the Palestinian people to build their own fully independent state."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has drawn global condemnation in recent days -- and defied the United States, which provides Israel with billions of dollars in military aid -- by rejecting calls for a Palestinian state.

That rejection has come as Israel pounds Hamas in Gaza, where the death toll reached nearly 25,500 Tuesday, with around 70 percent of the dead women and children, according to the territory's health ministry.

The offensive began in response to the unprecedented attack by Hamas fighters on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

The militant group also seized about 250 hostages during the attack, with around 132 still remaining in Gaza

- Israel at odds with allies -

Netanyahu's office last week said Israel "must retain security control over Gaza," even after "Hamas is destroyed," days after the prime minister had also rejected Palestinian sovereignty over the occupied West Bank.

He proclaimed Israel's need to have "security control over all the territory west of the (River) Jordan."

Israel's allies have criticized its comments, though few seem prepared to seriously walk back support.

"We must have a Palestinian state," said French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne, chairing Tuesday's Security Council meeting.

And even as Netanyahu told US President Joe Biden directly that he rejects Palestinian sovereignty in the Gaza Strip, Washington has maintained that it can still work with Israel on the issue.

"It's President Biden's firm conviction that two states, with Israeli security guaranteed, are the only path to durable peace," Uzra Zeya, US undersecretary for human rights, said Tuesday.

Calling for a ceasefire, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki said the "disregard for Palestinian life" should no longer be tolerated, while Russian top diplomat Sergey Lavrov said the United States has blocked "all efforts and initiatives geared towards ending the bloodshed."

Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan said while "it is important" to provide aid to Gaza, Iran is "the root of the dire threat to the Middle East and the world."

Guterres demanded that "Israel's occupation must end."

"The entire population of Gaza is enduring destruction at a scale and speed without parallel in recent history," he said, also calling for the establishment of new humanitarian crossing points and the resumption of aid operations at the Israel port of Ashdod.

International organizations have warned that after three and a half months of relentless airstrikes and a ground invasion, the tiny land strip's two million occupants face an acute humanitarian crisis, including the threat of famine and disease.

Blinken opposes territorial change in Gaza

 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday renewed opposition to territorial changes in the Gaza Strip as Israel pounds the territory following a Hamas attack.

Blinken, on a visit to Nigeria, was responding to repeated suggestions that Israel would create a buffer zone inside the Gaza Strip, a prospect that has stirred anger in the Arab world.

Blinken voiced understanding for temporary measures, saying that Israel had the right to prevent a repeat of the massive Hamas attack on October 7 and to reassure people in border areas.

"It is totally appropriate, something that we support, that those people be able to return to their homes and that the necessary security arrangements be in place to give them the confidence to do that," Blinken told reporters in Abuja.

"If there need to be transitional arrangements to enable that to happen, that's one thing," Blinken said.

"But when it comes to the permanent status of Gaza going forward, we have been very clear, we remain clear about not encroaching on its territory," he said.

The United States has been the main military and diplomatic backer of Israel, although it has pleaded to Israel to do more to protect civilians.

The Hamas attack on October 7 resulted in the death of around 1,140 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

More than 25,400 Palestinians, around 70 percent of them women, young children and adolescents, have been killed in the Gaza Strip in Israeli bombardments and ground offensive since October 7, according to the Hamas government's health ministry.

Israel strikes key Gaza city after losing record number of soldiers in combat

Israel kept up its heavy assault on the "encircled" Gazan city of Khan Yunis following an outpouring of grief over the army's deadliest single day since ground operations in the territory began.

As the fighting raged, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA reported that Israeli forces on Tuesday had issued fresh evacuation orders for a section of Khan Yunis housing an estimated half a million residents and displaced people.

The orders came as the World Food Programme warned that Gazans were facing "catastrophic food insecurity", and as the UN chief took Israel to task over its rejection of a two-state solution -- seen by ally the United States as the only path to a durable peace.

Twenty-four Israeli troops were killed on Monday, 21 of them reservists slain "when a squad of terrorists surprised the force" with rocket-propelled grenade fire, military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Tuesday.

"The price of the war is heavy and painful," he added.

Mourners filed into funerals for the reservists on Tuesday, including some with no connection to the deceased.

Israela Oron, of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said the mounting soldier deaths -- now at 221 -- would prompt the public to "demand clear answers about the purpose and the goal of this operation in Gaza".

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said an investigation had been launched into the "disaster".

- 'Nothing to eat or drink' -

On the ground, fighting raged in Khan Yunis, Gaza's main southern city, which the Israeli army said it had "encircled".

OCHA said in a bulletin that Israeli forces on Tuesday had issued evacuation orders for a four-square-kilometre (1.5-square-mile) segment of Khan Yunis currently home to around 513,000 people as well as the major Nasser and Al-Amal hospitals.

The office of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas decried the "dangerous demands" for residents to head south, and warned that Israel intended to "displace the Palestinian people from their homeland, thus leading to unforeseeable consequences", according to official news agency Wafa.

The war in Gaza began with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attacks, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,140 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

In response, Israel has carried out a relentless offensive that has killed at least 25,490 people in Gaza, around 70 percent of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

The war has led to dire shortages of food, water, fuel and medicines in the besieged territory.

In ruined Gaza City, displaced resident Umm Dahud al-Kafarna said the Israeli campaign had left "us with nothing to eat or drink while bombing us from the air, sea and tanks".

"My nieces suffered severe injuries," she added. "It's tragic... May they find some mercy in their hearts."

The World Food Programme warned Tuesday that conditions in Gaza were worsening.

"More than half a million people in Gaza are facing catastrophic food insecurity levels and the risk of famine increases each day," said Abeer Etefa, the WFP's senior Middle East spokeswoman.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, meanwhile, decried Israeli officials' repeated rejection of calls for the creation of a Palestinian state as "unacceptable" in a speech to the Security Council, saying it "would indefinitely prolong" the conflict.

- 'Sober, serious' talks -

The October 7 attacks also saw militants seize 250 hostages, and Israel says around 132 remain in Gaza. That number includes the bodies of at least 28 dead hostages, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

US President Joe Biden's Middle East envoy Brett McGurk was in the region for talks aimed at brokering a new deal to free the remaining captives in exchange for a pause in fighting.

"Certainly one of the things he's in the region talking about is the potential for another hostage deal, which would require a humanitarian pause of some length," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

"The conversations are very sober and serious about trying to get another hostage deal."

A Palestinian source familiar with the talks told AFP a Hamas delegation had arrived in Cairo on Tuesday to meet Egypt's intelligence chief and discuss new ceasefire proposals.


AFP


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