UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council urged Israel and the Palestinians on Tuesday to avoid actions that can further inflame tensions in the volatile West Bank.
The statement was backed by both the United States and Russia in a moment of unity on a divisive issue, reflecting the widespread international concern at the escalating violence especially by Israeli forces and settlers.
The statement followed what U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called "an alarming spike in violence" in the West Bank that led to numerous Palestinian and Israeli casualties. He warned the council that "unless decisive steps are taken now to rein in the violence, there is a significant risk that events could deteriorate further."
Wennesland said he was particularly alarmed by "the extreme levels of settler violence, including large numbers of settlers, many armed, systematically attacking Palestinian villages, terrorizing communities," sometimes with support from Israeli forces.
Council members called for restraint and "encouraged additional steps to restore a durable calm and de-escalate tensions."
This year has been one of the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank in years, and last week saw a major escalation in settler violence. At least 137 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank in 2023. As of Saturday, 24 people on the Israeli side have been killed in Palestinian attacks.
The United States, Israel's closest ally, supported the council statement and U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood told the council that the Biden administration shares Wennesland's alarm.
He said the United Stated was "horrified by the brutal terror attack against Israelis" near the West Bank town of Eli on June 21 that killed four and injured several others and condemned it "in the strongest terms." He also condemned "the recent extremist settler attacks against Palestinian civilians, which have resulted in a death, injuries and significant damage to their property."
At a time of escalating violence, there was widespread council criticism of plans by Israel's far-right government to build over 5,000 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and speed up settlement approvals.
Under international law, all Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal.
Wennesland warned that Israel's "relentless expansion" of settlements is fueling violence "and is impeding access by Palestinians to their land and resources, reshaping the geography of the occupied West Bank and threatening the viability of a future Palestinian state."
Wood called on Israel to refrain from building settlements, evicting Palestinians and demolishing their homes, and on both parties to refrain from terrorism and incitement to violence, "all of which serve to only further inflame the situation."
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia also expressed serious concern at the escalating violence, pointing to an Israeli raid on June 19 in the Jenin Refugee Camp that killed seven Palestinians, clashes between Israeli settlers and Palestinians, and intensified Israeli activity to broaden and legalize settlements.
Nebenzia warned that the situation will remain "explosive" until negotiations resume on a two-state solution that sees Israel and the Palestinians living side by side in peace. And he reiterated Russia's call for a meeting with the Arab League and neighboring countries to give impetus to long-stalled talks.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, accused the Israeli government of "making a state for the settlers in place of the Palestinian state." He said the settlers know their actions are condemned worldwide but they have military, financial and political support from the Israeli government, while the Palestinians have no real support to rein them in despite having "the moral high ground" and international law on their side.
The Palestinians are more convinced every day that "there is no help on the way," Mansour said, urging the council, "Show them that help is on the way."
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan accused the council of underreporting the 3,500 attacks he said the Palestinians have committed against Israelis since the beginning of the year.
He condemned the violence against Palestinian civilians and said Israel is "working tirelessly" to find and hold those responsible accountable. He pointedly noted that the Palestinians have not condemned the murders of innocent Israelis.
Erdan accused the Palestinians of seeking "the destruction of the very notion of a Jewish state." He said if Israel withdrew from the West Bank, the Hamas militant group would take control as it did in Gaza.