The U.N. secretary-general called Wednesday for Israel and Hamas to prolong a temporary truce, saying a “true humanitarian cease-fire” is needed in the eight-week-old war.
“The people of Gaza are in the midst of an epic humanitarian catastrophe before the eyes of the world,” Antonio Guterres told a ministerial-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the situation. “We must not look away.”
He welcomed the numerous aid trucks and fuel deliveries that have flowed into Gaza — both south and north — during the pause that began on Friday. Since then, 60 hostages held by Hamas and 180 Palestinian prisoners have also been released.
But Guterres said “much, much more” is needed to address the humanitarian needs of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents. He urged Israel to open more than just the single border crossing that is available now and called for the private sector to restart commercial activities.
Hamas killed some 1,200 people in Israel during its brutal October 7 terror attacks and continues to barrage Israeli towns with rocket fire.
The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry has put the Palestinian death toll from the war at more than 15,000, most of them women and children. Many more people are missing beneath collapsed buildings.
On Monday and Tuesday, local health officials said 160 bodies were recovered from the rubble.
Guterres, Malki lament Palestinian lives lost
“In a matter of weeks, a far greater number of children have been killed by Israeli military operations in Gaza than the total number of children killed during any year, by any party to a conflict since I have been secretary-general,” said Guterres, who began his tenure in January 2017.
Wednesday marked the U.N.’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki charged that 75 years after what Palestinians call the “Nakba,” or catastrophe — the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War — Israel is trying to “finish the job.”
“So many lives turned to names on plastic bags, leaving this Earth way too early,” Malki said of the thousands of Palestinians who have been killed since October 7.
He welcomed the temporary truce negotiated by Qatar, Egypt and the United States but said it must be turned into a permanent cease-fire.
“The massacres cannot be allowed to resume. This is not a war. It is a carnage that nothing and no one can justify. It must be brought to an end,” Malki told a chamber packed with diplomats and many Arab and Muslim foreign ministers.
Malki vowed that despite the destruction leveled on Gaza, the territory would not be erased and its residents would not be uprooted.
“There is no Palestine without Gaza,” Malki said. “Gaza bleeds. Gaza suffers. Gaza aches. But Gaza lives. And Palestine lives.”
Israel wants end to Hamas threat
Israel’s envoy reiterated the need to end the threat from Hamas, which has been designated a terror group by Israel, the United States, the European Union and others.
“Every call for a cease-fire means Hamas gets to live to see another day, terrorizing Israelis and impoverishing Gazans,” said Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan.
He said Hamas has threatened to repeat its terror attack of October 7 until Israel is no more, and asked how other countries would handle the same situation.
“How would you respond and defend your citizens from such a clear threat? With a cease-fire?” he asked, telling the Security Council it should focus on its mandate, which is security.
Israel’s closest ally, the United States, called for scaled-up aid to Gaza and the protection of civilians, including U.N. staff and journalists. More than 110 Palestinian U.N. staffers and 50 Palestinian journalists have died in Gaza.
“The United States has urged Israel to take every possible measure to prevent civilian casualties as it exercises its rights to safeguard its people from acts of terror,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said.
“We know Hamas continues to use civilians as human shields purposefully, cruelly putting Palestinian civilians in harm’s way. But this does not lessen Israel’s responsibility to protect civilians — consistent with international humanitarian law.”
She said Washington supports extending the humanitarian pause in order to release all hostages held by Hamas and other groups.
“Israel has been very clear that it is prepared to continue the pause in fighting for every day that Hamas releases an additional 10 hostages,” she said. “The ball is now in Hamas’ court, and if Hamas decides not to extend this deal, the responsibility will rest squarely on its shoulders.”
Israel’s war cabinet was meeting late Wednesday to discuss whether to further extend the pause.
Other council members worried what would happen if the pause ends.
“Resumed fighting would only most likely turn into a calamity that devours the whole region,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who chaired the session as council president for November.
“China strongly hopes that the past days of pause will not be a hiatus before a new round of offensive but rather the beginning of further diplomatic efforts for a comprehensive and lasting cease-fire,” he added.
There were also calls for relaunching a peace process.
“We should translate this dark episode into an opportunity to address the root cause of the conflict, otherwise the symptoms that we see today will be more catastrophic tomorrow,” warned Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan.
Several Arab ministers called for full recognition of Palestine as a state at the United Nations. Currently, it holds observer status. The U.N. Security Council would have to approve that — something the United States is highly unlikely to do before all final status issues are resolved through negotiations.