Amid escalating tensions between Gaza and Israel, India on Sunday urged "both sides" to show extreme restraint and refrain from attempts to unilaterally change the existing status-quo, underlining that "immediate de-escalation" is the need of the hour. The UN Security Council held an open meeting on the situation in the Middle East on Sunday, during which UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres termed the tensions as the "most serious escalation in Gaza and Israel in years".
Describing the current hostilities as utterly appalling, the UN chief asserted that fighting must stop. "It must stop immediately. Rockets and mortars on one side and aerial and artillery bombardments on the other must stop. I appeal to all parties to heed this call," he said.
India's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador TS Tirumurti said the continuing violence, which began in East Jerusalem a week back, is now threatening to spiral out of control. "The events of the last several days have resulted in a sharp deterioration of the security situation."
Tirumurti reiterated India's strong support to the Palestinian cause and its unwavering commitment to the two-State solution, while also stressing India's strong condemnation of all acts of violence, provocation, incitement and destruction.
"Immediate de-escalation is the need of the hour, so as to arrest any further slide towards the brink. We urge both sides to show extreme restraint, desist from actions that exacerbate tensions, and refrain from attempts to unilaterally change the existing status-quo, including in East Jerusalem and its neighbourhood," he said.
India voiced support for the diplomatic efforts of the Quartet and other members of the international community, the countries in the region in particular, to calm the situation and put an end to the ongoing violence and seek to achieve durable peace.
"These incidents have once again underscored the need for immediate resumption of dialogue between Israel and Palestinian authorities. The absence of direct and meaningful negotiations between the parties is widening the trust deficit between the parties," Tirumurti said, voicing concern that this will only increase the chances for similar escalation in future.
India believes that every effort should be made to create conducive conditions for resumption of talks between Israel and Palestine, he said.
During the two previously held Security Council closed meetings last week on the escalating tensions, India had expressed its deep concern over violence in Jerusalem, especially on Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount during the holy month of Ramzan, and about the possible eviction process in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, an area which is part of an arrangement facilitated by the UN.
"We had also expressed our apprehension at the spread of violence to other parts of the West Bank and Gaza," he said.
Tirumurti said India condemns the indiscriminate rocket firings from Gaza targeting the civilian population in Israel. He added that the retaliatory strikes into Gaza have caused immense suffering and resulted in deaths, including of women and children.
"India has also lost one of her nationals living in Israel in this rocket fire, a caregiver in Ashkelon. We deeply mourn her demise along with all other civilians who have lost their lives in the current cycle of violence, he said.
Soumya Santosh, 30, was killed in a rocket attack by Palestinian militants from Gaza, according to officials. Santosh, who hailed from Kerala's Idukki district, worked as a caregiver attending to an old woman at a house in the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon.
Tirumurti told the Council meeting, held under the Presidency of China this month, that Jerusalem has a special place in the hearts of millions of Indians, who visit the city every year. It also houses the Al Zawiyya Al Hindiyya (The Indian Hospice), which is a historic place associated with a great Indian Sufi saint Baba Farid and located inside the Old City.
"India has restored this Indian Hospice. The historic status-quo at the holy places of Jerusalem, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, must be respected," he said.
Guterres said the fighting risks dragging Israelis and Palestinians into a spiral of violence with devastating consequences for both communities and for the entire region. It has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism, not only in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole, potentially creating a new locus of dangerous instability.
Palestine's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Riad Al Malki said at the meeting that "Jerusalem is not for sale", asserting that, "Our roots are deep, our history long, our heritage etched in every street and alley in this city."
"The alternative that Israel choose is apartheid. Yes, apartheid. And one day soon, even this Council will not be able to deny this reality. Act now to end the aggression and assault on our people, our homes, our land. Act now so freedom can prevail, not apartheid. Israel may believe it is winning, but it is no where closer to defeating the Palestinian people. Our people will never surrender or forego their rights. Palestinian freedom is the only path to peace," he said.
Israel's Ambassador to UN Gilad Erdan said any attempt to compare Israel and Hamas is "factually, legally and morally wrong".
"Hamas targets civilians. Israel targets terrorists. Israel makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties. Hamas makes every effort to increase civilian casualties. Israel sees every civilian death as a tragedy. Hamas sees every Israeli civilian death as a victory in its campaign of Jihad based on its anti-semitic charter, and every Palestinian civilian death as a victory in its campaign to gain international sympathy," he said.
Erdan said the Council can send a clear message to Hamas that the international community will no longer accept its strategy of turning Palestinian children into human shields and using schools, hospitals, and high rises to hide its terror machines.
"You can choose to support a more peaceful future by demanding the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. Israel has already made its choice. We will take all steps necessary to defend our people. Now, the choice is yours. The world is watching," he said.