U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday offered the Security Council a grim assessment Wednesday of prospects for defusing the latest wave of violence between Israel and the Palestinians after meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and saying all recent killings must be thoroughly investigated.
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said council members were "struck by the pessimistic tone" Ban took during the closed video briefing.
Rycroft said Ban "thought there was a very wide gap" between the two sides "both on the short term, on how to deescalate, and on the longer term to go back to a genuine political process leading to a two-state solution."
Rycroft said the U.N. chief told the council that "all of those with influence need to use it to de-escalate the situation." He added he expected no concrete action to emerge from a Security Council ministerial meeting on the Middle East planned for Thursday.
At least three Palestinians were killed in clashes on Wednesday in the latest episodes of violence.
Ban's visit was aimed at calming three weeks of deadly unrest in which at least 50 Palestinians and eight Israelis have been killed across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
“We will continue to support all efforts to create the conditions to make meaningful negotiations possible,” Ban told journalists after meeting Abbas. “But ultimately it is for Palestinians and Israelis to choose peace. Our most urgent challenge is to stop the current wave of violence and avoid any further loss of life.”
A Palestinian was shot and wounded after allegedly ramming a car into a group of Israeli soldiers, according to local Ma’an News Agency. Four soldiers were reportedly injured in the incident.
Earlier on Wednesday, Israeli forces shot and killed a 19-year-old Palestinian man at a checkpoint at an Israeli settlement near Ramallah after he allegedly stabbed and seriously wounded a soldier.
Prior to that incident, Israeli forces shot and killed a 20-year-old Palestinian protester in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian health authorities told Ma'an News Agency.
Also on Wednesday, a Palestinian man in West Bank city of Hebron, identified as Hashem al-Azzeh, died after excessive tear gas inhalation during protests against Israeli’s military occupation, Ma’an reported.
The recent surge in violence broke out in early October after Israel imposed restrictions on worshipers at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. After the restrictions were implemented, four Israelis were killed in two attacks blamed on Palestinians. Israeli settlers in the West Bank responded by rioting, assaulting Palestinians at random and destroying their property. A spate of protests, clashes and stabbings have ensued.
Palestinian protesters are calling for unrestricted access to worship at Al-Aqsa, a site also revered by Jews as the location of two ancient temples. The protesters also demand an end to Israel’s decades-long military occupation of the Palestinian territories and the cessation of settlement building, both of which are illegal under international law.
Ban, who met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, said that “the only way to end the violence is through real and visible progress toward a political solution, including an end of the occupation.”
“I have stressed to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders the urgent need to reaffirm through words and deeds that they are partners for peace,” he said.
But after meeting Ban on Tuesday evening, Netanyahu courted outrage by suggesting that World War II-era Palestinian leader, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, convinced the Nazis to adopt their Final Solution to exterminate European Jews.
“Hitler didn't want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews,” Netanyahu told the World Zionist Congress. When Hitler asked al-Husseini what to do, he replied: “Burn them,” said Netanyahu.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat slammed the prime minister for blaming “the Palestinians for the Holocaust” and for absolving “Adolf Hitler’s heinous and reprehensible genocide of the Jewish people.”
“On behalf of the thousands of Palestinians that fought alongside the Allied Troops in defense of international justice, the State of Palestine denounces these morally indefensible and inflammatory statements,” the PLO official said.
Abbas called on Israel to strictly respect rules governing occupied East Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Abbas of inciting violence by suggesting that Israel wants to change the status of the compound, while Israeli authorities have allowed an increasing amount of Israeli Jews to visit the site.
Muslims fear Israel will seek to change rules governing the site. Jews are allowed to visit but not pray to avoid provoking tensions.
"The continued occupation and aggression against Christian and Muslim holy sites in East Jerusalem, particularly against Al-Aqsa, opens the door to a religious conflict, which has unfortunately started," Abbas told journalists.
"We don't want it and we are warning over its consequences," he said.
Al Jazeera and wire services