UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres lauded Israeli-Palestinian cooperation on Friday as he called for a global ceasefire so the world could unite to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and indirectly, Hamas in Gaza, reached unprecedented levels in response to the COVID-19 outbreak,” he said in a report distributed by his office.
“The Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) is coordinating closely with all sides, setting up coordination structures and maintaining regular contact,” he said.
Guterres did note that neither Israel nor the Palestinians have publicly headed his call with supportive statements, but the Gaza ceasefire, reached before the COVID-19 outbreak in the area “appears to be holding,” he said.
Guterres in his report said he was particularly concerned by the impact of the virus in conflict areas where the population is most vulnerable.
In a virtual press conference Friday he told reporters, “There should be only one fight in our world today: our shared battle against COVID-19.”
He continued, explaining that “the global ceasefire appeal is resonating across the world. The call has been endorsed by an ever-growing number of Member States, some 70 so far, regional partners, non-state actors, civil society networks and organizations.”
Earlier in the week, the PLO’s Ambassador to the UN in New York, Riyad Mansour, turned to the UN Security Council (UNSC) and asked it to intervene to ensure that global ceasefire include a halt to Israeli military actions against the Palestinians, as well as its continued settlement activity in the West Bank.
“While it is important to recognize, encourage and support Israeli-Palestinian cooperation to confront this pandemic, it is even more imperative to remind Israel of its obligations as the occupying power under international law and to demand its compliance,” Mansour said in a letter he wrote this week to the UNSC.
Palestinians are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because of the dilapidated health care systems in the West Bank and Gaza, he said.
“With just 1.23 beds per 1,000 people, 2,550 working doctors, less than 20 intensive care specialists and less than 120 ventilators in all public hospitals, the West Bank health [will be a] disaster if the virus spreads further. And, while the healthcare situation there is bleak, in the Gaza Strip it is catastrophic,” he said.
“All must call for Israel to ‘silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes against the defenseless Palestinian civilian population’; ‘help create the corridors for life-saving aid’ and ‘end the sickness of war,’ including by ending its colonization of Palestinian land and lifting the blockade it has inhumanely imposed on Gaza and releasing all Palestinian prisoners in its jails, starting with the most vulnerable,” Mansour said.
He repeated charges circulating both in the Palestinian media and by Palestinian leaders themselves of Israelis trying to deliberately infect Palestinians and of not caring for Palestinian workers in Israel.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, immediately responded to Mansour, charging him with undermining joint Israeli-Palestinian efforts to combat the disease.
“Even during an international crisis, the Palestinians are unable to break free from their repetitive and baseless complaints,” Danon said on Thursday.
“The contempt they have for the truth and how to address a crisis situation is unparalleled. With one hand, they receive Israeli aid to curb the coronavirus in PA territory, and with the other they continue to make false allegations against Israel at the United Nations.”
Danon added, “Those who exploit this crisis to condemn the soldiers of the IDF must be ashamed.”