Statement by H.E. Mr. Ali Babacan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, at the UNSC Meeting on the Situation in Gaza Strip

Ali Babacan 06.01.2009

Mr. President,

This is the first official meeting of the Security Council Turkey attends as a non-permanent member. I would like to pay tribute to the French Presidency.

I would also like to welcome President Mahmoud Abbas and the distinguished Ministers of the Arab League Delegation who are here to brief us about the latest developments in Gaza, where we are confronted with a tragic situation.

Today is the eleventh day of the attacks against Gaza and four days after the launch of the ground assault. As Israeli forces continue to operate in Gaza, the crisis further deepens in its scope and impact while civilians continue to take the brunt of the misery. And every step in escalation takes us further away from peace.

Mr. President, the situation in Gaza is indeed very grave. In this regard, we deeply regret the loss of civilian life. It is highly regrettable that civilians have become targets and victims in this conflict. Just today, for instance, a UN-run school in a Palestinian refugee camp in Gaza has been hit by Israeli missiles, killing more than 40 people, who were using the school as a shelter.

People of Gaza are also faced with severe shortages of all basic needs including food and medical supplies. Infrastructure is almost entirely damaged. Thousands of people have lost their homes.

In short, what we face in Gaza is a human tragedy. Israel's military operations against Gaza constitute disproportionate and excessive use of force and must thus be immediately stopped.

Such punitive measures which harm the well-being of the entire population can serve nothing but fomenting further resentment. Let's not forget that the Palestinians which are being bombed and attacked today will be Israel's neighbors forever. In the same vein, no one can also understand the closure of crossings to humanitarian assistance for weeks and months, leaving the Gaza people to total isolation and deprivation.

Given all these facts, we can not allow this situation to continue any longer. The international community and the UN Security Council can not stand idle while innocent civilians lose their lives. We must try to put an immediate end to the ongoing tragedy in the region. Otherwise, the responsibility of inaction and indifference will be impossible to bear.

Moreover, the tragedy in Gaza may have a very negative implications on the whole region. Efforts for stability and a durable peace have already taken a serious blow.

Bearing all these in mind and the dire consequences that we may face, we urge all sides to act in restraint and in a responsible manner. No one has anything to gain out of this dangerous scenario.

It is within this frame of mind that Turkey continues its active diplomatic efforts trying to contribute to a course of action which will help bring peace, security and stability to the region. To this end, our Prime Minister has visited Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia to meet with his counterparts, including President Mahmoud Abbas. We also held the extraordinary Ministerial Meeting of the Executive Committee of the Organization of Islamic Conference last Saturday.

Based on these visits and our extensive contacts with all the other interested parties, we believe that at this stage, the priority must be to ensure an immediate halt to Israel's military operation and cessation of hostilities; to agree on a sustainable cease fire; and to open the border crossings to Gaza so as to end the blockade.

In parallel to this, we should do all we can to address the pressing humanitarian and economic needs of the people in Gaza. This is an equally urgent need, as the people of Gaza are faced with grave shortages of food and medical supplies. Turkey, on its part, has already stepped up its efforts in this direction. But more should be done. Israel must be cooperative in allowing unhindered access to humanitarian assistance and reopening all border crossings.

In addition to these two most urgent steps, achieving unity among the Palestinians is also of paramount importance within this course of action.For, without such unity, it would be most difficult for the Palestinians to achieve their goal of an independent, peaceful and prosperous future.

Finally, Israelis and Palestinians should be brought back to the negotiation table and encouraged to work towards a comprehensive and lasting peace on the basis of the principles set out by the Quartet, Annapolis Joint Understanding and the Arab Peace Initiative. After all, only through a meaningful and effective dialogue can we achieve our ultimate objective of comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

Mr. President, these, we believe, are the elements of a course of action which needs to be urgently put into effect for the cessation of hostilities and return to normalcy.

Within this framework, we can, and maybe should, also consider deploying an international monitoring mission to the region. In light of the publicly expressed views of the parties to the conflict, it is our understanding that the acceptability and viability of a cease-fire, as well as a sustainable end to the blockade, depends on an international commitment to guarantee it.

In conclusion, Mr. President, the international community must act and do so quickly and with clear ends in mind. The risks of inaction are enormous and they are getting bigger every other day.

Turkey, on its part, will continue its endeavors to help restore calm in the region so as to open the way for full-fledged efforts towards a lasting and comprehensive peace.

We believe that the Security Council should also play its due role in this regard and live up to its responsibilities under the UN Charter by helping bring this crisis to an end.

Thank you.