UN chief Guterres condemns Israel for ‘unprecedented’ killings in Gaza, urges truce

Addressing G77+China summit in Kampala, secretary-general reiterates his call for ‘unconditional’ release of all hostages held by Hamas, warns against allowing conflict to spread

Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres attends the closing session of the 19th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Kampala on January 20, 2024. (LUIS TATO / AFP)
Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres attends the closing session of the 19th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Kampala on January 20, 2024. (LUIS TATO / AFP)

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Sunday denounced Israel for the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and said it was unacceptable to oppose statehood for the Palestinian people.

The Israel-Hamas war erupted on October 7 with a cross-border rampage by some 3,000, who killed some 1,200 people in Israel and abducted another 253, amid brutal atrocities. Israel launched an operation in Gaza in response, aimed at destroying Hamas, toppling the terror group’s regime in Gaza, and retrieving the hostages, 136 of whom are believed to still be in terrorists’ hands.

“Following the abhorrent Hamas attacks on October 7, the wholesale destruction of Gaza and the number of civilian casualties caused by the Israeli army in such a short period are totally unprecedented during my mandate,” Guterres said at the opening of a summit of the G77+China in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

“I will not relent in my call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages,” he said.

Lamenting the humanitarian situation in Gaza, Guterres said, “People are dying not only from bombs and bullets, but from lack of food and clean water, hospitals without power and medicine, and grueling journeys to ever-smaller slivers of land to escape the fighting.”

He said the deaths of 152 UN staff members in the fighting is “a heartbreaking tragedy for our organization, for their families, and for those they were serving in Gaza.”

IDF troops operating in the Gaza Strip in pictures cleared for publication on January 21, 2024. (IDF)

Guterres also warned against letting the war spread to other areas of the Middle East.

“We must do all we can to prevent spillover of this conflict across the region — in the West Bank, across the Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon, and in Syria, Iraq and the Red Sea.”

The Gaza health ministry, run by Hamas, says the death toll in the Strip has surpassed 25,000 people, though figures from the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, some as a consequence of the terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 9,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on and immediately following October 7.

Throughout the war, the Israeli military has expressed regret for civilian deaths while accusing Hamas of operating in densely populated areas and using civilians as human shields, a charge the group denies. The US and the European Union have also accused Hamas of using Gazans as human shields.

Guterres added that refusal to accept the two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians is totally unacceptable, saying denying Palestinians the right to statehood “would indefinitely prolong a conflict that has become a major threat to global peace and security.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on Saturday to push back against US President Joe Biden’s remarks about the need for Palestinian statehood after the war had ended.

His office said that in talks on Friday with Biden, Netanyahu “reiterated his policy that after Hamas is destroyed Israel must retain security control over Gaza to ensure that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel, a requirement that contradicts the demand for Palestinian sovereignty.”

Palestinians line up for free food during the ongoing Israeli air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip in Rafah, January 9, 2024. (Hatem Ali/AP)

Netanyahu’s statement came after Biden said that the creation of an independent state for Palestinians is not impossible even while Netanyahu is still in office and that the two had discussed the matter. CNN, citing a person familiar with the conversation, also reported that the prime minister told Biden he has not ruled out the creation of a Palestinian state.

The carefully worded statement issued by the PMO on Saturday did not definitively rule out the possibility of a Palestinian state with less than full sovereignty — a possible option that Biden mentioned in comments after the leaders’ Friday call when he spoke of “types” of a two-state solution.

Guterres was in Kampala to attend the summits of G77+China and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Leaders and senior officials from dozens of countries including South Africa, Iran, China, Turkey, Cuba, India, Vietnam, and others attended the meetings.

The G77+China is a group of 134 developing countries that champions the common interests of countries from the global south.

A document released late Saturday at the end of the NAM summit included a condemnation of “the illegal Israeli military aggression on the Gaza Strip, the indiscriminate attacks against Palestinian civilians, civilian objects, the forced displacement of the Palestinian population,” and called for an immediate and durable humanitarian ceasefire.

On October 25, Guterres incensed Israelis by saying that the Hamas attack “did not happen in a vacuum,” linking the terrorist atrocities to occupation, settlements, and economic woes. That statement led Gilad Erdan, Israel’s UN ambassador, to call for Guterres’s resignation.

But he has also reportedly denounced Hamas atrocities committed on October 7 as “humanity at its worst” after watching an IDF video documentary of the terror group’s brutal attacks on civilians that included multiple gang rapes as well as the torture and mutilation of victims.

Last week Israeli hostages freed from captivity in Gaza met for the first time with Guterres, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

According to a statement from the Hostages Families Forum, Guterres told the group that he is calling for the immediate release of all the remaining hostages, as well as an investigation and prosecution of sex crimes committed by Hamas.

There were 105 hostages released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the Israeli military.

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