Mr. President,

Thank you for convening this meeting, and thank you to all the speakers for their presentations.

As this Council meets for the last time in its current composition, the need for a lasting political solution to put an end to the hostilities, ensure the protection of the civilian population and free the hostages is imperative in the Middle East. We have a collective responsibility to make this a reality in the New Year. A year that will begin in the cold, damp and under the rubble, for far too many children, their parents and their loved ones.

In this context, reports on the latest developments in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as well as on the northern border with Lebanon, continue to be of great concern to us. Figures verified by the United Nations make 2023 the deadliest year in almost twenty years both in Israel and Gaza, but also in the West Bank. This dismal record does not spare children, according to UNICEF.

The increased intensity of violent acts committed by settlers, which Switzerland condemns, have led to the forced displacement of pastoralist communities and have the potential to lead to even more violence. While recalling that the settlements are illegal under international law, Switzerland stresses that Israel is responsible for maintaining order in the West Bank and calls on it to hold the perpetrators of these acts accountable. In the context of operations by Israeli security forces in the West Bank, the use of force must in particular meet the criterion of proportionality and respect the rights of every individual to life and security of person.

We will continue to emphasise that respect for international humanitarian law and human rights, particularly with regard to the protection of civilians, must remain a priority for this Council. Switzerland recalls the obligations of all parties under international law, including the obligation to protect the civilian population.

As we have done since 7 October, Switzerland condemns the terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas. In particular, we condemn the sexual and gender-based violence of which many women and girls have been victims in the context of these attacks. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages still being held in Gaza. Switzerland recognises Israel's right to ensure its own security. At the same time, we have not ceased to call on the parties to protect civilians and to respect international humanitarian law. It is vital that all violations of international law committed in Israel and throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory are investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip remains catastrophic. The population is deprived of access to medical services, health infrastructure, hygiene and drinking water. 90% of the population is in a situation of acute food insecurity. I am referring here to the joint declaration read by Brazil on behalf of our two delegations as informal focal points for hunger and conflict. Humanitarian aid must be delivered unhindered and without preconditions to civilian populations in need throughout the Gaza Strip. We welcome the appointment of Ms Sigrid Kaag as Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza, and we call for the full implementation of Council Resolutions 2712 and 2720. Despite the adoption of these resolutions, the aid delivered remains insufficient. A humanitarian truce and security guarantees are the urgent prerequisites for guaranteeing access to aid and enabling the staff of impartial humanitarian organisations to work effectively without risking their lives.

Mr. President

Without putting an end to the current spiral of violence, the risk of a regionalisation of the conflict remains real and will compromise a lasting political solution to the conflict in the Middle East. This Council must take concrete steps towards a two-state solution, which is the only possible basis for peace and stability in the region. In this process, the full, equal and meaningful participation of Palestinian and Israeli women is essential. We must help to rebuild the basis for two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side, in peace, within secure and recognized borders.

I thank you.

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