United Nations — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday alleged violations of international law in Gaza and urged an immediate ceasefire as Israel pounds the Palestinian territory in response to Hamas attacks, with the crisis deeply dividing the Security Council.
Israel voiced anger over the UN chief’s plea before a high-level session of the Security Council, where the Palestinian foreign minister in turn denounced what he described as inaction in the conflict that has killed thousands on both sides, mostly civilians.
Opening the session, Guterres said there was no excuse for the “appalling” violence by Hamas militants on October 7 but also warned against “collective punishment” of the Palestinians.
“I am deeply concerned about the clear violations of international humanitarian law that we are witnessing in Gaza. Let me be clear: No party to an armed conflict is above international humanitarian law,” Guterres said, without explicitly naming Israel.
Guterres also said that the Hamas attacks “did not happen in a vacuum” as the Palestinians have been “subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.”
The situation in the Middle East is growing more dire by the hour.
At a crucial moment like this, it is vital to be clear on the fundamental principle of respecting & protecting civilians. pic.twitter.com/TpDcQz0Bkc
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) October 25, 2023
His remarks infuriated Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen who, pointing his finger at Guterres and raising his voice, recounted graphic accounts of civilians including young children killed in the deadliest single attack in Israeli history.
“Mr Secretary-General, in what world do you live?” Cohen said.
Rejecting tying the violence to the occupation, Cohen said Israel gave Gaza to the Palestinians “to the last millimeter” with its withdrawal in 2005.
Israel shortly afterward imposed a blockade of the impoverished territory, in place ever since, after Hamas took power, and it still occupies the West Bank.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, called on Guterres to resign — writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the UN chief has “expressed an understanding for terrorism and murder.”
Hamas militants stormed into Israel on October 7 and attacked largely civilian targets including families and a music festival, killing at least 1,400 people and taking more than 220 hostages, according to Israeli officials.
More than 5,700 Palestinians, also mostly civilians, have been killed across the Gaza Strip in retaliatory Israeli bombardments, the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry said.
Guterres, who personally traveled to the crossing between Egypt and Gaza in a push to let in assistance, welcomed the entry of three aid convoys so far through the Rafah crossing.
But Guterres said it was “a drop of aid in an ocean of need,” as the UN agency for Palestinian refugees warned it would be forced to stop working Wednesday due to lack of fuel.
“To ease epic suffering, make the delivery of aid easier and safer, and facilitate the release of hostages, I reiterate my appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”
Israel, backed by the United States, has rejected calls to halt the offensive, saying it would only allow Hamas to regroup.
New draft, new opposition
The United States last week vetoed a draft resolution on the crisis, saying it did not sufficiently support Israel’s right to respond to Hamas.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked the Security Council to back a new US-led resolution that “incorporates substantive feedback.”
The draft, seen by AFP, would defend the “inherent right of all states” to self-defense while calling for compliance with international law. It would back “humanitarian pauses” to let in aid but not a full ceasefire.
“No member of this council – no nation in this entire body – could or would tolerate the slaughter of its people,” Blinken said.
Veto-wielding Russia – accustomed to being on the receiving end at the Security Council over its invasion of Ukraine – quickly said it would oppose the US draft, which also came under criticism from US regional ally Egypt.
“We’re surprised by new attempts to adopt a resolution that doesn’t include any call for a ceasefire to prevent further deterioration of the situation which might lead the region to a dangerous juncture,” Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said.
“The grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas.
And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
– @antonioguterres to Security Council. https://t.co/EikUwthxGL
— United Nations (@UN) October 24, 2023
Foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki of the Palestinian Authority, run by Hamas rivals, called inaction by the Security Council “inexcusable,” as did Jordan, another US partner.
“The Security Council must take a clear stance to reassure two billion Arabs and Muslims that international law will be applied,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said.
Jordan and Russia are among nations that requested a meeting Thursday of the UN General Assembly, whose resolutions are non-binding, due to the Security Council deadlock.
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