The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has accused Israel of violating international humanitarian law in its invasion of Gaza.
He spoke Tuesday while addressing the 15-member UN Security Council at the UN Headquarters, New York, on the occasion of the United Nations Day.
Concerns have been raise about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza where Israel has cut off water, food and power.
Since the shock Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, Israel has launched devastating air and ground bombardments of Gaza.
American, British, French, Canadian, German and Italian leaders had, on Monday, asked Israel to adhere to international law and protect civilians, while also reiterating Israel’s right to defend itself against “terrorism”.
Guterres Tuesday warned that “no party to an armed conflict is above international humanitarian law.”
“I am deeply concerned about the clear violations of international humanitarian law that we are witnessing in Gaza,” he said.
He recalled that he had unequivocally condemned the “horrifying and unprecedented” 7 October acts of terror by Hamas in Israel.
“Nothing can justify the deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians – or the launching of rockets against civilian targets.
“All hostages must be treated humanely and released immediately and without conditions. I respectfully note the presence among us of members of their families.”
Guterres noted that the situation in the Middle East is growing more dire by the hour, saying the war in Gaza is raging and risks spiraling throughout the region.
“Divisions are splintering societies. Tensions threaten to boil over. At a crucial moment like this, it is vital to be clear on principles — starting with the fundamental principle of respecting and protecting civilians.”
The UN Secretary-General stressed that the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.
He said the Palestinians had been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. “They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plight have been vanishing.”
He, however, stated that 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,” he added.
Guterres stated, “Even war has rules. We must demand that all parties uphold and respect their obligations under international humanitarian law; take constant care in the conduct of military operations to spare civilians; and respect and protect hospitals and respect the inviolability of UN facilities which today are sheltering more than 600,000 Palestinians.”
He said the relentless bombardment of Gaza by Israeli forces, “the level of civilian casualties and the wholesale destruction of neighborhoods continue to mount and are deeply alarming.”
“I mourn and honour the dozens of UN colleagues working for UNRWA – sadly, at least 35 and counting – killed in the bombardment of Gaza over the last two weeks.
“I owe to their families my condemnation of these and many other similar killings. The protection of civilians is paramount in any armed conflict.”
He said protecting civilians can never mean using them as human shields.
“Protecting civilians does not mean ordering more than one 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 said though some humanitarian relief was finally getting into Gaza, “it is a drop of aid in an ocean of need.
“In addition, our UN fuel supplies in Gaza will run out in a matter of days. That would be another disaster. Without fuel, aid cannot be delivered, hospitals will not have power, and drinking water cannot be purified or even pumped.
“The people of Gaza need continuous aid delivery at a level that corresponds to the enormous needs. That aid must be delivered without restrictions.
“I salute our UN colleagues and humanitarian partners in Gaza working under hazardous conditions and risking their lives to provide aid to those in need. They are an inspiration.”
Guterres said in order to ease “epic suffering, make the delivery of aid easier and safer and facilitate the release of hostages”, he reiterated his appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
“Even in this moment of grave and immediate danger, we cannot lose sight of the only realistic foundation for a true peace and stability: a two-state solution.
“Israelis must see their legitimate needs for security materialized, and Palestinians must see their legitimate aspirations for an independent state realized, in line with United Nations resolutions, international law and previous agreements.
“Finally, we must be clear on the principle of upholding human dignity. Polarization and dehumanization are being fueled by a tsunami of disinformation.”
The UN scribe emphasized that “We must stand up to the forces of antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry and all forms of hate.”
He also stated: “Today is United Nations Day, marking 78 years since the UN Charter entered into force.
“That Charter reflects our shared commitment to advance peace, sustainable development and human rights.
“On this UN Day, at this critical hour, I appeal to all to pull back from the brink before the violence claims even more lives and spreads even farther. ”
Reacting to Guterres speech, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, yesterday called on him to “resign immediately.”
Erdan, on X (formerly Twitter, wrote: “There is no justification or point in talking to those who show compassion for the most terrible atrocities committed against the citizens of Israel and the Jewish people. There are simply no words.”
Death toll hits 5,791 in Palestine
The death toll from the Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip has crossed 5,700, as per the figures shared by the Gaza Health Ministry.
“The number of those killed is 5,791, including 2,360 children, ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra was reported as saying. Over 16,200 others are injured, he added, further noting that the government has received reports of 1,550 persons missing, including 870 children.”
Israeli airstrikes killed more than 700 in the past day, Hamas-run Health Ministry said.
Israeli police shut down Al-Aqsa Mosque
For the first time in months, Israeli police yesterday closed the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem and stopped Muslim worshippers from entering the compound, according to the Islamic Waqf department which is in charge of the holy site.
Israeli police allowed Jewish worshippers to enter the compound in the morning and hold rituals in violation of the status quo at the mosque which states only Muslims can worship at the holy site, Palestinian Wafa news agency reported.