Israel grants visas to UN officials despite pledge to deny them entry

‘We haven’t said categorically that we’re not giving visas,’ asserts Israeli envoy after outcry over UN chief’s remark that Hamas onslaught ‘did not happen in a vacuum’

Martin Griffiths, the UN's under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, meets with the Syrian foreign minister in Damascus on June 26, 2023. (Louai Beshara/AFP)
Martin Griffiths, the UN's under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, meets with the Syrian foreign minister in Damascus on June 26, 2023. (Louai Beshara/AFP)

Israeli officials have not been adhering to their promised refusal to grant entry visas to UN officials in protest of recent comments by the global organization’s chief, who appeared to say the October 7 onslaught by Hamas and other Palestinian terror factions was a result of Israeli occupation.

Martin Griffiths, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, tweeted Monday that he was in Israel — less than a week after Israel’s UN ambassador said it had “refused” to grant Griffiths a visa.

Israeli officials had expressed outrage over the comments last week by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that the deadly October 7 massacres by Hamas “did not happen in a vacuum,” accusing him of justifying terror.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s UN ambassador, accused Guterres of justifying the slaughter, called for his resignation and said Israel would “refuse to grant visas to UN representatives.”

On Monday, Israel’s ambassador in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahar, said, “We haven’t said categorically that we’re not giving visas. We understand their need to be there.”

Eilon Shahar confirmed that Griffiths was in Israel, as well as other officials, including Han Kluge, the regional head of the World Health Organization.

But she continued to voice Israel’s frustration that UN institution chiefs didn’t speak out more forcefully against Hamas terrorists for “butchering civilians and women in such a vicious way.”

“The United Nations has let down the people of Israel,” Eilon Shahar added. “When I say the United Nations, I’m talking about the multilateral organizations have let down the people of Israel.”

Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations and International Organizations in Geneva. (Israel’s Mission to UN and International Organizations in Geneva)

In the face of Israeli fury, Guterres has doubled down on his remarks, decrying “misrepresentations” of them.

Addressing a Security Council session last week, the UN chief, without naming Israel, had denounced “the clear violations of international humanitarian law that we are witnessing in Gaza.” In remarks that especially outraged Israel, Guterres said it was important to “recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum” as the Palestinians have been “subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.”

Responding a day later to the outcry, Guterres said it was “necessary to set the record straight, especially out of respect for the victims and their families.”

“I spoke of the grievances of the Palestinian people. And in doing so, I also clearly stated, and I quote: ‘But the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas.’”

That explanation was rejected by Erdan, who repeated his call for Guterres to resign, while the head of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem said the UN chief had “failed the test” when it came to ensuring atrocities against Jews don’t repeat.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference with Egypt’s Foreign Minister (not pictured) following their meeting in Cairo on October 19, 2023. (Khaled Desouki/AFP)

Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza began when thousands of terrorists burst through the border and rampaged through more than 20 communities. The terrorists killed some 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians, massacring them at their homes and at a music festival. They also abducted at least 243 people to the Strip as hostages.

Israel evacuated all settlements and military forces from the Gaza Strip under its 2005 disengagement. Since then it has faced years of rocket attacks from Hamas, which rules the Strip, and from other terror groups there, as well as multiple rounds of intense combat.

It has maintained a tight blockade of the territory since Hamas took control in 2007, as has Egypt, with Jerusalem saying it must do so to limit the terror group’s ability to arm itself. In the West Bank, settlements have expanded under consecutive governments, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly arguing the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority is not a partner for peace, having rejected several offers in the past.

Israel has responded to the Hamas assault by vowing to destroy the terror group and launching intensive strikes in Gaza, saying it is hitting terror targets while trying to avoid civilian casualties. It has told over one million Gaza residents to evacuate the northern part of the Strip ahead of its ground incursion.

The Hamas-controlled health ministry says the strikes have killed over 8,300 Palestinians so far. Those numbers cannot be independently verified and are believed to include Hamas’s own members, as well as civilians killed by hundreds of misfired Palestinian rockets.

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