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Israel/Palestine: Arria-Formula Meeting on Missing and Captive Persons in Gaza

Tomorrow (22 December), Council members will meet for an Arria-formula meeting that is being co-sponsored by Ukraine and the US entitled, “Humanitarian Aspects of Missing and Captive Persons in Gaza”. The meeting is being held amid heightened tensions concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in both the Security Council and General Assembly, with both bodies having voted on draft resolutions pertaining to the status of Jerusalem this week.

Briefers are expected to include Leah Goldin, whose son was killed in combat with Hamas and whose remains are being held by the group, and Irwin Cotler, Founder and Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University. Members of the Council will be invited to make statements following introductory remarks by the co-sponsors and briefers. Attendance at the meeting is open to all member states, permanent observer missions, UN-accredited non-government organisations, and the media.

A concept note circulated ahead of the meeting notes that, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, “missing persons, regardless of their status—soldiers fallen or captured during the fighting, or civilians taken captive by an adverse party—are protected by humanitarian law… intentionally withholding information about missing persons is acting in violation of humanitarian law”. During the 2014 conflict in Gaza, Hamas seized the remains of two Israeli soldiers that were killed, Second Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul. On two other occasions, Hamas captured two Israeli civilians who entered Gaza, Abraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed—who both claimed to be mentally disabled, unaware of their surroundings, and in need of medical attention. The concept note states that Hamas has refused to provide access to or information about the captives and the remains of the soldiers to their families or to international humanitarian organisations.

According to the concept note, the objective of the meeting is to provide an opportunity to discuss the violations of humanitarian obligations and international law in the cases under discussion, the effects on the families of those held, and the implications of these acts on other countries fighting terrorism.

The Arria-formula meeting follows Monday’s (18 December) US veto of a draft resolution in the Security Council, tabled by Egypt and drafted with the Palestinians, in reaction to the 6 December declaration by US President Donald Trump that the US would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy from Tel Aviv. The text affirmed that any decisions and actions that purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void, and must be rescinded and called upon all states to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in Jerusalem pursuant to resolution 478 (1980) of the Council. The other 14 members of the Council voted in favour of the draft.

Following the US veto, Yemen, as the Chair of the Arab Group, and Turkey, as the Chair of the Summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, sent a letter to the President of the General Assembly requesting the resumption of the tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly on “Illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory” under “Uniting for Peace”. The tenth emergency session was requested by Qatar following two US vetoes in March 1997 on settlement building. (By a 16 January 2009 resolution, the General Assembly decided to adjourn the tenth emergency special session temporarily, which could later be resumed at the request of a member state.)

Yemen also circulated a draft resolution that was very similar to the draft vetoed in the Council earlier this week. The General Assembly adopted the resolution today with 128 votes in favour, 9 votes against, and 35 abstentions.

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