UN chief alleges violations of law in Gaza, angering Israel

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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.

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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 told a Security Council session, without explicitly naming Israel.

Guterres said that the Palestinians had been “subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation,” telling the Security Council: “It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.”

His remarks infuriated Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen who, pointing his finger at Guterres and raising his voice, recounted graphic accounts of civilians killed on October 7 in the deadliest single attack in Israeli history.

“Mr Secretary-General, in what world do you live?” Cohen said.

Pointing out that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Cohen said, “We gave the Palestinians Gaza till the last millimeter. There is no dispute in regards to the land of Gaza.”

Israel shortly afterward imposed a blockade of the impoverished territory in place ever since after Hamas took power.

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.”

‘Epic suffering’

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 have been killed across the Gaza Strip in retaliatory Israeli bombardments, the territory’s health ministry said.

Guterres, who personally traveled to the crossing between Egypt and Gaza in a push to let in assistance, welcomed the crossing of three aid convoys so far through the Rafah crossing.

“But it is a drop of aid in an ocean of need,” Guterres said, warning that UN fuel supplies will run out within days.

“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.”

The Security Council session is bringing together top diplomats including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has previously rejected calls for a ceasefire, saying it would only allow Hamas to regroup.

The United States last week vetoed a draft resolution on the crisis, saying it did not sufficiently support Israel’s right to self-defense.

Blinken told the Security Council that the United States was putting forward a new resolution that “incorporates substantive feedback.”

He questioned why there was not more outrage over the killings of Israelis.

“We must affirm the right of any nation to defend itself and to prevent such harm from repeating itself. No member of this Council, no nation in this entire body, could or would tolerate the slaughter of its people,” Blinken said.

The Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki, a rival of Hamas, denounced inaction by the Security Council.

“The ongoing massacres being deliberately and systematically and savagely perpetrated by Israel -- the occupying power against the Palestinian civilian population under illegal occupation -- must be stopped,” he said.

“It is our collective human duty to stop them,” he said. “Continued failure at this council is inexcusable.”

With AFP

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