UN chief addresses remarks after Israel blocks visas for UN officials amid row over calls for Gaza ceasefire to ‘end epic suffering’
At a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York, Mr Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire to end "epic suffering" in Gaza as hospitals in the region are on the verge of collapse amid a blockade on vital aid.
Israel said earlier on Wednesday that it would deny visas to UN officials and cancelled meetings after Mr Guterres warned that "no party to an armed conflict is above international humanitarian law".
Fears of a serious humanitarian crisis are growing as hospitals in Gaza are shutting down after fuel to power generators has almost entirely run out, meaning ventilators and incubators will stop working. Israel, which launched air strikes on Gaza following the attacks by Hamas earlier this month, is operating a blockade into the strip, meaning no aid, including fuel can go in over its borders.
The UN said on Tuesday night that a third of hospitals in Gaza were already shut, while UNRWA, the UN agency set up for Palestinian refugees, warned its shelters are housing four times their capacity, with nearly 600,000 people are sheltering in 150 facilities.
At the UN’s security council meeting, Mr Guterres pointed to "56 years of occupation" by Israel of the Palestinians and said the Hamas attack on October 7 "did not happen in a vacuum", angering Israeli diplomats.
“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,” he said.
“The Palestinian people have 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.”
However, in a statement issued following Israeli calls for his resignation, Mr Guterres said he was "shocked by misrepresentations” of his comments and said he condemns unequivocally "the horrifying and unprecedented 7 October acts of terror by Hamas in Israel".
He says he had told the Security Council that "nothing can justify the deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians – or the launching of rockets against civilian targets".
"Indeed, I spoke of the grievances of the Palestinian people,” he said.
"In doing so, I clearly stated, and I quote: 'But the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas'.”
He added that his remarks did not justify acts of terror by Hamas.
"It was the opposite," he said.
Foreign minister Eli Cohen announced on Wednesday he would cancel a meeting scheduled with Mr Guterres and called for his immediate 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. I call on him to resign immediately,” Erdan posted on X. “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.”
Gilad Erdan, ambassador for Israel to the UN, described the speech by the UN leader as “shocking”.
Mr Erdan said: “The shocking speech by the UN Secretary-General at the Security Council meeting, while rockets are being fired at all of Israel, proved conclusively, beyond any doubt, that the Secretary-General is completely disconnected from the reality in our region and that he views the massacre committed by Nazi Hamas terrorists in a distorted and immoral manner.
“His statement that, ‘the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum’, expressed an understanding for terrorism and murder. It’s really unfathomable. It’s truly sad that the head of an organisation that arose after the Holocaust holds such horrible views.”
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