The United Nations on Wednesday urged Israel and the Palestinians to “immediately” end violence as intra-Palestinian tensions erupted following a deadly Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank city of Nablus fired tear gas at mourners attending the funeral of a Hamas militant killed in Tuesday’s raid, amid a surge in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We are in the midst of a cycle of violence that must be stopped immediately,” UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said in a statement.
“The Security Council has spoken with one voice, calling on the parties to observe calm and restraint, and to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.”
Abdel Fatah Hussein Khroushah, 49, and five other Palestinians were killed on Tuesday during intense fighting with Israeli forces in Jenin, a scene of frequent clashes in the northern West Bank.
The Israeli army said Khroushah was a “terrorist operative” suspected of killing two Israeli settlers in the Palestinian town of Huwara on February 26.
An AFP correspondent at the funeral in Nablus saw Palestinian mourners hurling insults at police and equating the Palestinian Authority (PA) to “prostitutes” and “spies” for its coordination with Israel.
In January, in the aftermath of another deadly Israeli raid in Jenin, the PA said it was ending security coordination with Israel.
The PA is controlled by president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah movement, a rival faction to Hamas.
Palestinian security service spokesman Talal Dweikat said officers securing the funeral had intervened when an argument broke out after “a group unrelated to the martyr’s family kidnapped the body and lowered it to the ground”, Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.
Hamas spokesman Abdul Latif al-Qanou condemned the PA officers’ violence, arguing in a statement it “confirms the PA is part of the plan to repress the resistance” to the Israeli occupation.
– ‘Outrageous’ –
Qanou accused PA leadership of “going against the current and against the will of our people” with what he dubbed “outrageous behaviour” by the officers.
Businesses in Palestinian cities across the West Bank shuttered on Wednesday in a general strike to protest the deadly Israeli raid.
It was the latest in a string of fatal military operations in the Palestinian territory, which Israel has occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967.
Thousands gathered in Jenin for the funerals of the five Palestinians killed alongside Khroushah, with heavily armed masked fighters firing volleys into the air, AFP journalists said.
Near the blockaded Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, the Israeli army said an “explosive device” was set off close to troops patrolling the border barrier, without causing any injuries.
The army responded to the incident with fire.
“Tanks struck a military post belonging to the Hamas terrorist organisation in the southern Gaza Strip,” the army said in a statement.
Medics in Gaza said two Hamas members sustained minor injuries.
Overnight, a rocket was fired by militants in the Palestinian enclave but appeared to be a misfire.
The army initially said it had fallen inside Gaza, but after searches on the ground reported it “fell adjacent to the security fence in Israeli territory” without causing any injuries.
The violence in the West Bank and elsewhere comes amid celebrations for the Jewish holiday of Purim and against a backdrop of rising tensions since the beginning of the year, coinciding with the tenure of Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government that took office in Israel in December.
Some observers fear further violence particularly around Jerusalem’s holy sites during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which begins in late March, and the Jewish holiday of Passover in April.
Since the start of the year, the conflict has claimed the lives of 71 Palestinian adults and children, including militants and civilians.
Thirteen Israeli adults and children, including members of the security forces and civilians, and one Ukrainian civilian have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.
The United Nations has expressed its grave concern regarding the recent violence between Israel and Palestinian armed groups and urged for an immediate, unconditional and complete ceasefire to ensure the safety of innocent civilians.
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, stated that this was “the most serious escalation in and around Gaza since 2014.” In addition, he noted that the violence “has claimed the lives of innocent civilians, including a number of children in Gaza and Israeli towns,” and that “the loss of life is deeply deplorable and unjustifiable.”
Though the UN has previously called for an end to the violence in Gaza, this is the first statement issued since hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups drastically escalated in early May. The Secretary-General has demanded that the parties involved put an end to the fighting immediately. He noted that this should be done not only to protect civilian lives and property, but also to de-escalate the situation as well as allow diplomatic efforts at reconciliation to continue.
The Secretary-General has also condemned missile attacks on Israeli cities, as well as retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza. He has emphasised that all sides have not only a legal and moral responsibility to ensure civilian safety, but also a political responsibility to exercise maximum restraint. In doing so, he has urged both sides to open immediate channels of dialogue and secure a long-term solution to their issues of contention.
In his statement, the Secretary-General called on all governments to use their influence to bring the parties to abide by international humanitarian law, and to contribute to the de-escalation of tensions in the region. He concluded the statement by saying that “we must find a way forward that can bring an end to the violence and deliver on the legitimate aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis for a stable and secure future.”