UNITED NATIONS (AP) — In a rare condemnation of Israel, the U.N. chief on Thursday denounced the country’s excessive use of force in its largest military operation in two decades targeting a refugee camp in the West Bank.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, clearly angered by the impact of the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, said the operation had left over 100 civilians injured, forced thousands to flee, damaged schools and hospitals and disrupted water and electricity networks.
He also criticized Israel for preventing the injured from getting medical care and humanitarian workers from reaching everyone in need.
“I strongly condemn all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror,” Guterres told reporters.
Asked whether this condemnation applied to Israel, he replied: “It applies to all use of excessive force, and obviously in this situation, there was an excessive force used by Israeli forces.”
The U.N. chief again called on Israel “to abide by its obligations under international law,” and to exercise restraint and use only proportional force.
“The use of airstrikes is inconsistent with the conduct of law enforcement operations,” he stressed.
Guterres reminded Israel that “as the occupying power, it has a responsibility to ensure that the civilian population is protected against all acts of violence.”
Israel’s two-day offensive meant to crack down on Palestinian militants destroyed the Jenin camp’s narrow roads and alleyways, thousands of people fled their homes and killed 12 Palestinians. One Israeli soldier also was killed.
The Israeli army claimed to have inflicted heavy damage on militant groups in the operation at the camp which ended Wednesday.
Ahead of the Israeli withdrawal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to carry out similar operations if needed.
This comes after more than a year of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The Jenin camp and an adjacent town of the same name have been a flashpoint since Israeli-Palestinian violence began escalating in spring 2022.
The offensive also further weakened the Palestinian Authority, Israel’s erstwhile partner in battling militants, which already had little control in the camp to begin with.
Guterres said he understands Israel’s legitimate concerns with its security. “But escalation is not the answer,” he said, “it simply bolsters radicalization and leads to a deepening cycle of violence and bloodshed.”
“Restoring the hope of the Palestinian people in a meaningful political process, leading to a two-state solution and the end of the occupation, is an essential contribution by Israel to its own security,” the secretary-general stressed.
Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state, a goal supported by the United Nations and many countries around the world.
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