UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to delegates during a United Nations Security Council meeting called to address the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict, in New York, Oct. 24, 2023. (EPA Photo)
U.N. chief Antonio Guterres harshly criticized Israel’s violations of international law in Gaza, as he called for an immediate cease-fire amid indiscriminate Israeli airstrikes on the blockaded enclave, which is currently facing a humanitarian catastrophe with no food, fuel, or water.
Opening the session, Guterres said there was no excuse for the “appalling” violence by Hamas on Oct.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.
In his speech, Guterres also said that it was “important also to recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.”
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 Oct. 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.”
Cohen’s remarks completely disregard the fact that Since 2007, the Gaza Strip has been under a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade that has gutted its economy and deprived its inhabitants of many vital commodities, including food, fuel and medicine.
Israel has used collective punishment against Palestinians since the illegal occupation began in 1967 through home demolitions and psychological and economic warfare.
Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Gilad Erdan, called on Guterres to resign.
Cohen cancels meeting with Guterres
Israeli Foreign Minister Cohen canceled a meeting planned in New York with U.N. Secretary-General Guterres after clashing at a debate in the Security Council.
“I will not meet with the U.N. Secretary-General. After Oct. 7, there is no room for a balanced approach. Hamas must be wiped off the face of the Earth,” wrote Cohen on social media.
A spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem confirmed the cancellation.
Hamas stormed into Israel on Oct. 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, mostly women and children, have been killed across the Gaza Strip in indiscriminate 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 U.N. 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 cease-fire.”
The Security Council session brings together top diplomats, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has previously rejected calls for a cease-fire, saying it would only allow Hamas to regroup.
The U.S. 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 U.S. was putting forward a new resolution that “incorporates substantive feedback.”
He questioned why there was no 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.”