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Envoy welcomes restart of Israeli-Palestinian coordination amid COVID-19 rise

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in the Middle East following weeks of decline, the top UN official in the region has welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s decision to resume coordination with Israel. 

In a briefing to the Security Council on Wednesday, UN Special Coordinator Nikolay Mladenov told ambassadors that Gaza remains the most pressing concern as the territory is ill-equipped to face a major spike in cases due to poor living conditions and a fragile healthcare system. 

He warned that any major outbreak of the disease would have a catastrophic impact on the two million Palestinians living there, who are already affected by severe movement and access restrictions, cycles of violent escalation, and years of humanitarian crisis. 

Recognition of interdependence 

“For these reasons, I welcome the Palestinian Authority’s decision to restart civilian and security coordination with Israel. I express my appreciation to Israel for confirming that existing bilateral agreements continue to govern relations between both parties, particularly in the context of economic, security and civilian affairs.” he said

The envoy thanked all those who helped bring about this development, noting that it took months of hard work. 

“I have previously expressed hope that recognition of the interdependence of Israelis and Palestinians could, with political will and leadership, translate into tangible progress towards a resolution of the conflict. Both sides should understand the importance of respecting the validity and continuing force of the framework that they have agreed to govern their relations,” he continued. 

UN support continues 

Mr. Mladenov reported that the UN and its partners continue to provide critical humanitarian development and assistance in Gaza, as unemployment and hunger have soared during the pandemic. 

Roughly 121,000 Palestinians have lost their jobs, while some 40 per cent of all households have seen their incomes drop by more than half. 

Assistance provided by the UN and partners has included the delivery of nearly 85,000 COVID-19 tests, advanced laboratory equipment, ventilators, monitors and other items.  

Re-examine economic relationship 

However, Mr. Mladenov also expressed hope that the restart of coordination will bring an end to temporary measures brokered by the UN which have facilitated the transfer of patients out of Gaza and allowed for humanitarian supplies to be imported into the territory. 

The envoy also addressed the need to re-examine the economic relationship between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, as highlighted by the UN Secretary-General. 

“All sides can take immediate steps to facilitate the movement of goods in and out of Gaza and to allow trade to increase between the Gaza Strip, Israel and the occupied West Bank,” he said. 

Historic visit, ongoing tensions  

Turning to regional developments, Mr. Mladenov noted that Wednesday saw the first visit of Bahrain’s Foreign Minister to Israel. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani arrived in Tel Aviv earlier that day for meetings with Israeli leaders and the visiting US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. 

Meanwhile, although the situation in the Golan is generally stable, he said developments that day show how it remains volatile. 

On Wednesday, Israeli forces carried out a series of strikes in Syria after finding explosive devices near the ceasefire line, reportedly killing two Syrian soldiers. 

Mr. Mladenov said the UN force in the region, UNDOF, continues to engage the parties to exercise utmost restraint and to avoid any actions that might trigger an escalation.