The attacks by the Palestinian militant group Hamas against Israel “did not happen in a vacuum”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council on Tuesday, remarking that “the Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation”.
Guterres’s speech at the opening of the debate on the Gaza war, in which he also mentioned “clear violations of international humanitarian law” in Gaza, drew a response from Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, who called for Guterres’s resignation.
“The UN Secretary-General, who shows understanding for the campaign of mass murder of children, women and the elderly, is not fit to lead the UN”, Gilan said.
In his speech, the UN Secretary-General emphasised that nothing can justify the deliberate killing, injuring and abduction of civilians or the firing of rockets at civilian targets, and he recognised the decades of Palestinian struggle and suffering under occupation, economic hardship and displacement.
Guterres went on to make clear that no party to an armed conflict is above international humanitarian law. He expressed deep concern at the relentless bombardment of Gaza, the civilian casualties and the destruction of neighbourhoods, and mourned the loss of at least 35 colleagues working for the UN’s relief agaency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, who have been killed during the conflict.
“Protecting civilians can never mean using them as human shields”, Guterres said, adding, “Protecting civilians does not mean ordering more than a million people to evacuate to the south, where there is no shelter, no food, no water, no medicine and no fuel, and then continuing to bomb the south itself”.
He also highlighted the urgent need for humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip, where there is a desperate need for assistance.
After calling for Guterres’s resignation, Ambassador Erdan said on army radio that the country had denied a visa to the UN’s humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, as a result of Guterres’s remarks. “The time has come to teach them a lesson,” Erdan said.
US proposes humanitarian pause rather than immediate ceasefire
Diplomatic representatives from nearly 90 nations, including some 30 foreign ministers and deputy foreign ministers, voiced growing concern at the UN Security Council on Tuesday over the ongoing Middle East conflict, with many calling for an immediate ceasefire and an end to Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
However, it was a humanitarian pause – considered less formal and shorter than a traditional ceasefire – that was proposed by the United States, represented by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Blinken urged the Council to support a new US-led resolution upholding the “inherent right of all states” to self-defence while respecting international law. The draft resolution would be in favour of ‘humanitarian pauses’ to facilitate the delivery of aid to Gaza, but not of a full ceasefire.
Russia, meanwhile, presented its counter-draft resolution during the debate. The Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia stressed that the world expects the Security Council to call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.
The Council is expected to vote on the proposed resolutions later this week.
This current war in Gaza started almost three weeks ago when Hamas launched an attack on several southern Israeli towns on 7 October. The attack killed over 1,400 people, mostly civilians.
Israel responded by bombing and blockading the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, depriving its 2.3 million people of water, food, fuel and electricity. The Israeli bombardment has resulted in at least 5,791 reported deaths.