UN chief Antonio Guterres pleaded Saturday for a “humanitarian ceasefire” in the war between Israel and the Hamas terror group that erupted after Hamas gunmen killed over 1,400 people in southern Israel on October 7, demanding “action to end this godawful nightmare.”
Addressing a Cairo “Summit for Peace” as the conflict raged into its third week, Guterres said the Palestinian enclave of 2.4 million people was living through “a humanitarian catastrophe,” with thousands dead and more than a million displaced as Israeli strikes target terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
“We meet in the heart of a region that is reeling in pain and one step from the precipice,” he told the meeting that included the leaders of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates as well as of Italy and Spain and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The US did not participate.
Guterres said “the grievances of the Palestinian people are legitimate and long” after “56 years of occupation with no end in sight” but stressed that “nothing can justify the reprehensible assault by Hamas that terrorized Israeli civilians.”
He then said that “those abhorrent attacks can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
Jordan’s King Abdullah II called for “an immediate end to the war on Gaza” and condemned what he labeled “global silence” on Palestinian death and suffering.
“The message the Arab world is hearing is loud and clear: Palestinian lives matter less than Israeli ones. Our lives matter less than other lives,” he charged.
“The application of international law is optional. And human rights have boundaries — they stop at borders, they stop at races, and they stop at religions.”
Israel criticized the summit participants for failing to agree on condemning Hamas for its massacres.
“It is unfortunate that even when faced with those horrific atrocities, there were some who had difficulty condemning terrorism or acknowledging the danger,” a Foreign Ministry statement said. “Israel will do what it has to do and expects the international community to recognize its justified battle,” it added.
The war broke out on October 7 when 2,500 terrorists broke through the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip in a multipronged, devastating onslaught. More than 1,000 civilians were massacred, and over 200 people were taken hostage.
Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists, in what US President Joe Biden has highlighted as “the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”
Israel says around 1,500 Hamas terrorists were killed in clashes before the IDF regained control of the area under assault.
Israel has hit back with an offensive aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the coastal enclave. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates while aiming to minimize civilian casualties.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said the strikes have killed more than 4,300 Palestinians. The figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include Hamas’s own terrorists and gunmen, and the victims of a blast at a Gaza City hospital on October 17 caused by an Islamic Jihad missile misfire that Hamas has blamed on Israel.
Israel has produced evidence showing the blast was caused by an Islamic Jihad rocket misfire. The United States, also citing its own data, has endorsed the Israeli account.
‘We will not leave’
The summit came on the day a first convoy of aid trucks rumbled into southern Gaza, which Guterres said needed to be rapidly scaled up, with “much more” help sent through.
The UN has said that about 100 trucks per day are needed to meet worsening needs in Gaza.
The Palestinians need “a continuous delivery of aid to Gaza at the scale that is needed,” the UN chief told the summit.
Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi argued that the “only solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “justice” and said that “Palestinians must realize their legitimate rights to self-determination” and have “an independent state on their land.”
Abbas stressed his demand for a two-state solution and an “end to Israel’s occupation” and rejected what he has warned could be a “second Nakba.”
“Nakba,” the Arabic word for “catastrophe,” is used by Palestinians to recall the displacement and dispossession they experienced at the time of Israel’s establishment and the War of Independence in 1948.
“We will not leave,” he repeated three times at the end of his speech.
Cairo and Amman have repeatedly rejected calls for large numbers of refugees to enter Egypt from Gaza, warning that a “forced displacement” of Palestinians would lead to the “eradication of the Palestinian cause.”
Egypt and Jordan were the first Arab states to normalize relations with Israel, in 1979 and 1994, respectively, and have since been key mediators between Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan urged for the current conflict to become, “rather than a regional conflagration, a breeding ground for a just and lasting peace.”
He also condemned “unconditional military aid to Israel which only serves to maintain the occupation.”
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan condemned the failure of the UN Security Council to pass a resolution Wednesday calling for a ceasefire, after a US veto.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the resolution was blocked because the text did not include respect for Israel’s right to defend itself.
“Like every nation in the world, Israel has the inherent right of self-defense, as reflected in Article 51 of the UN Charter,” she said. “Following previous terrorist attacks by groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, this council reaffirmed that right. This text should have done the same.”