The international community appealed Wednesday for a de-escalation of Israeli-Palestinian tensions as Israel was chided for its ongoing settlement activity in Palestinian territories during a United Nations Security Council meeting.
"I urge all sides to refrain from unilateral steps that escalate tensions (and) refrain from provocative actions and messages at this sensitive time," UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland told the council, noting this season's convergence of religious holidays Ramadan, Passover and Easter.
The meeting of the 15-member panel also occurs as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears to have spiraled into new spasms of violence since the beginning of the year.
Wennesland said he does "remain deeply troubled by continued Israeli settlement expansion," including the recent authorization of nine settlements in the occupied West Bank and the construction of thousands of new housing units in existing settlements.
The United Nations considers such settlement activity illegal under international law.
Washington's UN ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said "the United States remains deeply concerned by the sustained violence in Israel and West Bank."
She said 2022 was the deadliest year since the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which occurred roughly between 2000 and 2005.
"And 2023 is on track to surpass the staggering level of violence," Thomas-Greenfield said.
Several Security Council envoys including from Britain, China, France and Russia also denounced the spike in violence, and voiced concern that Israel's Knesset has passed legislation overturning significant portions of the 2005 disengagement law.
The settler movement scored a victory Tuesday in the Israeli parliament, which rolled back law banning Israelis from an area in the northern West Bank from which Jewish residents were evacuated in 2005.
Sunday remarks in Paris by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, part of Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right government, in which he denied the existence of a Palestinian people were also denounced by council members.
"Inflammatory rhetoric and incitement of violence by certain Israeli political leaders only serves to drive settler violence," said UK ambassador James Kariuki.
Palestinian representative Riyad Mansour, invited to address the meeting, said in response to the Israeli minister that "we the Palestinian people do exist."
"He is denying our existence to justify what is to come," Mansour said.
As for Israel's envoy Gilad Erdan, he assailed the "fabrications" and "repetitive lies" of the Palestinians and attacked what he deemed bias by the Security Council.