UN chief says situation in Gaza has reached ‘a dangerous new low’

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UN chief Antonio Guterres appealed Friday for the protection of basic human rights as the Israel-Hamas conflict spiraled, stressing that “even wars have rules” and warning against using hostages as human shields.

“The situation in Gaza has reached a dangerous new low,” Guterres said ahead of a Security Council meeting on the volatile situation.

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“We need immediate humanitarian access throughout Gaza, so that we can get fuel, food and water to everyone in need,” he said, adding that the blockaded enclave’s health system was on the brink of collapse.

Guterres’ call for the protection of civilians came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country’s fierce bombardment of Gaza was “just the beginning” of the response to Hamas attacks launched on Saturday that left 1,300 -- mostly civilians -- dead.

Hamas gunmen also abducted around 150 Israelis and foreigners, taking them to Gaza as hostages.

Nearly 1,900 Gazans -- again most of them civilians and including over 600 children -- have been killed in the waves of missile strikes on the densely populated enclave, the health ministry said.

“Even wars have rules,” Guterres said. “International humanitarian law and human rights law must be respected and upheld; civilians must be protected and also never used as shields.

“It is imperative that all parties -- and those with influence over them -- do everything possible to achieve these steps.”

Israel has given more than one million Palestinians 24 hours to leave the northern Gaza Strip ahead of an expected ground offensive -- an exodus that Guterres said earlier Friday would set off a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

“Moving more than one million people across a densely populated warzone to a place with no food, water, or accommodation, when the entire territory is under siege, is extremely dangerous -- and in some cases, simply not possible,” he said.

Guterres also warned against hostilities spilling across the region, with Israel facing the threat of a separate confrontation with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

On Friday, a Reuters video journalist was killed and six others from AFP, Reuters and Al Jazeera were wounded in southern Lebanon when they were caught up in cross-border shelling.

“I have been in constant contact with leaders across the region, focusing on ways to reduce suffering and prevent further dangerous escalation in the West Bank or elsewhere in the region, especially in southern Lebanon,” Guterres said.

“The exchange of fire across the Blue Line is very worrying. It must stop,” he said, referring to the United Nations demarcation line drawn when Israeli troops withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000.

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