With the continuing violence in Israel and Gaza bringing the two sides to the brink of an all-out war, Russia stepped into the breach today after a conversation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who later said that the two sides need to “exercise restraint.”
The escalating violence in Gaza has killed at least 16 Palestinians and three Israelis, though Russia faulted Israel for its “disproportionate” response to Palestinians firing rockets into Israel.
“The president of Russia called on the parties to exercise restraint and avoid the path of escalating violence, whose victims include civilians, and to do everything to return the situation to its normal course,” the Kremlin said, after the telephone conversation between Putin and Netanyahu.
Russia called on Palestinian terrorists to stop firing rockets into Israel, but it strongly condemned Israel’s use of air strikes.
“Attacks on the south of Israel and the disproportionate strikes on Gaza—especially when civilians are killed on both sides—are completely unacceptable,” foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters.
The situation has escalated after the Israeli air force yesterday announced that it had eliminated the head of Hamas military wing, Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari, and declared that it was launching an operation in Gaza cities called the Pillar of Defense. In addition to the 16 Palestinian deaths, more than 100 have been injured.
In response to the Israeli operation, Hamas militants counterstruck southern Israel with 200 rockets.
As expected, the United States quickly took Israel’s side, on Thursday blaming Hamas for the explosion of violence in Gaza after rockets were fired into Israel in retaliation for the killing of the group’s military chief.
Expressing regret for the victims on both sides of the conflict, White House spokesman Jay Carney said there was “no justification” for the violence on the part of Hamas, saying it “does nothing to help the Palestinians.”
The Russians are concerned that the violence in Gaza is part of growing instability in the region linked to the conflict in Syria and last year’s war in Libya.
Lukashevich said Israel and the Palestinians were now pursuing a course that could lead to still further bloodshed between them while threatening to degenerate into a broader conflict.
“We strongly appeal on all the involved parties to immediately end their armed confrontation and to keep the conflict from resulting in still further bloodshed,” the Russian spokesman told a weekly briefing. “We believe that considering the fragile situation in the Middle East and the entire North African region, such large flare-ups of violence are fraught with dangerous consequences, including in other parts of the Arab world.”
All of this conflict comes as Israel is so threatened by Palestine’s attempt to upgrade its U.N. status that it is considering “toppling” Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas if the Palestinian bid is approved by the U.N., according to a position paper by Israel’s foreign ministry that was obtained by the BBC.
Israel is clearly alarmed that the Palestinian measure to become an “observer” state would have a monumental effect on Israel’s position in the world. Palestine is currently considered an observer “entity,” but not an official state. To be upgraded to statehood would be a huge move because it would grant the Palestinians access to bodies like the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which would give it the right to file complaints against Israel. It would be the same status accorded to the Vatican.
The move is adamantly opposed by the United States and Israel, but is still expected to pass easily when put to a vote in the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly later this month—a body composed mostly of post-colonial states historically sympathetic to the Palestinians. To further solidify their position, Palestinian diplomats are courting European countries to garner their votes.