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The Candidate Countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro* and Albania*, as well as Ukraine, align themselves with this statement.
Recent events in Gaza are a stark reminder of how volatile the situation on the ground can be in the absence of a clear political horizon. This is why, in past months, the European Union has consistently kept the Middle East Peace Process high on the political agenda, at a time when the region faces many other challenges.
Following the exchanges with Prime Minister Netanyahu in December, and President Abbas in January, the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union met in February with a delegation of six Arab foreign ministers and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States to discuss how the European Union and its Arab partners can contribute to relaunching a meaningful peace process on the basis of the two-state solution.
Our overarching objective remains to restore a political horizon and an appropriate framework for political progress, together with our regional and international partners, starting with the Middle East Quartet. The European Union appreciates the UN role in this regard, including in particular the role played by the UN Special Coordinator for the Peace Process, Nikolay Mladenov.
The European Union remains fully committed to its known positions on parameters for a two-state solution, on the need to avoid any steps that are eroding the viability of the two-state solution, as laid down in the Quartet report of July 2016, including in particular continued Israeli settlement activity, which is illegal under international law and remains an obstacle to peace - as reaffirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 2334 - as well as incitement and violence.
A negotiated two-state solution, which fulfils the aspirations of both sides, is the only realistic way of bringing the lasting peace and security that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve. All final status issues should be resolved on the basis of international law, including Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements. A failure to do so could have dangerous repercussions.
We need to join forces to bring a meaningful peace process back on track and avoid a further deterioration of the situation on the ground, including in Gaza.
The European Union has followed closely the recent protests and violence at the Gaza border fence. Over thirty Palestinians have been killed by Israeli live fire, including minors and journalists. Thousands have been injured. This raises serious questions about the proportionate use of force which must be addressed through independent and transparent investigations. The European Union takes note of the Fact-Finding Assessment Mechanism established by the Israel Defence Forces to review its own actions and specific incidents that have taken place on the Israeli-Gaza border since 30 March 2018. Facts must also be established regarding reports about violent attacks against Israel under the guise of the protests.
The most immediate priority for all sides must be to prevent any further escalation and loss of life. We call on all sides to act with utmost restraint and responsibility, while respecting the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Israel must respect the right to peaceful protests, ensure the use of proportional measures when protecting its legitimate security interests. Those leading the protests and the de facto authorities in Gaza must avoid any incitement to violence, ensure that the protests remain strictly non-violent, and they must not exploit them for other means.
The situation in Gaza could have significant consequences on regional and international peace and security, as demonstrated by three conflicts in the past decade. Therefore, the Security Council must contribute to de-escalation efforts, including through an appropriate public expression.
The protests in Gaza need to be seen in a broader political context. The situation in Gaza is unsustainable. The electricity supply continues to be limited to an average of 4 hours/day. Hospitals have to rely on generators running on fuel, which is expected to last for only another few months. There is a severe shortage of medication and other basic goods. With youth unemployment at 60%, the Gaza Strip has turned into a pressure cooker on the verge of explosion. Those living in Gaza need to see some hope of decent living conditions.
The European Union has made important efforts, together with its partners, in recent months to improve the situation for the people in Gaza and support the return of the single legitimate Palestinian Authority to Gaza. Together with Norway, the European Union convened an extraordinary ministerial level session of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) on 31 January, which brought both parties around the table to discuss concrete challenges on the ground, not least in Gaza. This was followed up at a regular meeting of the AHLC on 20 March. On that same day, in Brussels, the European Union co-chaired a donor conference for the Gaza Desalination Plant which received pledges of €456 million, €77 million of which came from the European Union. The Plant, which will address the human right to water in Gaza, will take some years to build, but some of its components will have immediate positive impact.
The efforts of the international community in Gaza can only bear fruit if there is also responsible leadership on the ground. We expect all Palestinian factions to work together to address the needs of the Palestinian population. This means a serious engagement in good faith under Egyptian auspices to implement the 12 October agreement, allowing the Palestinian Authority to resume its full responsibilities in Gaza. Gaza and the West Bank must be reunified under one single and legitimate Palestinian Authority. This is an important element for achieving the two-state solution and a viable and sovereign Palestinian State.
All parties must take swift steps to produce a fundamental change to the political, security and economic situation in the Gaza Strip in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009), including the end of the closure and a full opening of the crossing points, while addressing Israel's legitimate security concerns.
The European Union remains deeply concerned over recent significant reductions of funding to UNRWA, which is facing the most difficult financial situation since its inception in 1949. This will have serious security and humanitarian consequences not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank and neighbouring countries. The extraordinary ministerial conference held in Rome on 15 March, at the initiative of Sweden, Jordan, and Egypt, was an important occasion to mobilize both political and financial support for the Agency, and to find ways to assure sustainable forms of financing for UNRWA. Collectively, the European Union and its Member States are among the largest contributors to the Agency, and this will continue. We call on all donors to continue or increase their support and on those who have cut funding to rethink their decision. The European Union will also continue to use its good offices, including vis-à-vis other current or potential future donors, to ensure that UNRWA remains able to carry out its important function to secure the humanitarian needs of the Palestine refugees in an already unstable region.
The EU reiterates its support for Israel’s legitimate right to exist as well as Palestinian legitimate aspirations for statehood and sovereignty. In view of the upcoming events in mid-May, and the risks for a flare up of tensions and violence on the ground, the priority must be to avoid further escalation and loss of life. We urge the parties to show restraint and avoid provocative rhetoric and acts that would risk to fuel tensions.
The European Union and its member states will continue to respect the international consensus on Jerusalem embodied in, inter alia, UN Security Council Resolution 478, including on the location of their diplomatic representations until the final status of Jerusalem is resolved.
The status of Jerusalem is a final status issue. The aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem must be fulfilled, and a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states.
Recognizing the special significance of the holy sites of Jerusalem for the three monotheistic religions, the European Union also strongly believes that the status quo put in place in 1967 for the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif must be upheld in line with previous understandings and with respect to Jordan's special role.
Let me now turn briefly to Syria, where the conflict has entered its eighth year.
We strongly condemn the repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria, and its continued and repeated use by the regime in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2118 and the Chemical Weapons Convention, including the latest attack on Douma, which is a grave breach of international law and an affront to human decency. The EU fully supports the on-going investigation by the OPCW Fact Finding Mission into this devastating chemical attack. The European Union reiterates its strong commitment to combat the re-emergence of chemical weapons and is supportive of all efforts aimed at the prevention of the use of chemical weapons.
In this respect, the EU deeply regrets the multiple Russian vetoes of the renewal of the JIM mandate in November 2017 and urges the UNSC to rapidly re-establish an independent attribution mechanism to ensure accountability for perpetrators of chemical weapons' attacks. We support current efforts led at the Security Council to recreate dialogue and move forward on all tracks of the Syrian conflict.
The European Union reiterates its call to have the situation in Syria referred to the International Criminal Court. The European Union will remain at the forefront of efforts to document breaches of international law, in particular of international humanitarian law and human rights law, and to gather evidence in view of future legal action. The Commission of Inquiry as well as the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism have an essential role to play.
The European Union reiterates that there can be no military solution to the Syrian conflict. Contrary to this, since last year, the Syrian regime, supported by its allies Russia and Iran, has intensified its military operations without regard for civilian casualties. The European Union condemns in the strongest terms all attacks, both deliberate and indiscriminate, against civilian populations, and civilian infrastructure, hospitals and schools. The continued deliberate denial and obstruction of humanitarian access to those in need is in blatant violation of international humanitarian principles and must stop.
The European Union reiterates its call upon all parties to the conflict, especially the regime and its allies, to implement a nationwide ceasefire to ensure humanitarian access and medical evacuations pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 2401 unanimously adopted by the Security Council. The protection of the civilian population, which is the primary responsibility of the Syrian regime, and ensuring aid is delivered in a timely manner and in accordance with humanitarian principles, are urgent priorities.
Yesterday, the second Brussels Conference on "Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region", co-chaired by the European Union and the United Nations, concluded with a strong message of broad international support to relaunch the political process under UN auspices in Geneva to solve the Syrian crisis, in line with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including UNSCR 2254 and the Geneva Communiqué.
The European Union reiterates that it will be ready to assist in the reconstruction of Syria only when a comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition, negotiated by the Syrian parties in the conflict on the basis of Resolution 2254 and the 2012 Geneva Communique is firmly under way.
At the Brussels Conference, $4.4 billion (€3.5 billion) were mobilized in support of operations to address both the worsening humanitarian situation inside Syria and enormous needs of refugees and their hosts across the region for 2018, as well as multi-year pledges of $3.4 billion (€2.7 billion) for 2019-2020.
The momentum of the current situation should be used to reinvigorate the process to find a political resolution of the Syrian conflict. The European Union repeats that any sustainable solution to the conflict requires a genuine political transition in line with Resolution 2254 and the 2012 Geneva Communique negotiated by the Syrian parties within the UN-led Geneva process and remains committed to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian State.
In this context, the European Union commends the tireless efforts of the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr Staffan de Mistura, to facilitate the implementation of all relevant UNSC resolutions. The European Union will spare no efforts in support of a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict. A lasting peace in Syria is the ultimate objective of the European Union.
* The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.