The United Nations chief has warned at a high-level meeting that the situation in the Middle East is growing more dire by the hour with the risk of the Gaza war spreading through the region increasing as societies splinter and tensions threaten to boil over.
Antonio Guterres called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to deliver desperately needed food, water, medicine and fuel. He appealed “to all to pull back from the brink before the violence claims even more lives and spreads even farther”.
The UN secretary-general told the UN Security Council’s monthly meeting on the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict – which has turned into a major event with ministers from the war’s key parties and a dozen other countries flying to New York – that the rules of war must be obeyed.
He said the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify “the horrifying and unprecedented October 7 acts of terror” by Hamas in Israel and demanded the immediate release of all hostages.
But Mr Guterres also stressed that “those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people”.
He expressed deep concern at “the clear violations of international humanitarian law”, calling Israel’s constant bombardment of Gaza and the level of destruction and civilian casualties “alarming”.
Protecting civilians “is paramount in any armed conflict”, he said.
Without naming Hamas, the UN chief stressed that “protecting civilians can never mean using them as human shields”.
Mr Guterres also criticised Israel without naming it, saying “protecting civilians does not mean ordering more than one million people to evacuate to the south, where there is no shelter, no food, no water, no medicine and no fuel, and then continuing to bomb the south itself”.
The US is pushing for adoption of a resolution that would condemn the Hamas attacks in Israel and violence against civilians, and reaffirm Israel’s right to self-defence. There were some expectations of a vote on Tuesday, but diplomats said it is still being negotiated.
A draft obtained by the Associated Press would also demand the immediate release of all hostages, strongly urge respect for international laws on conducting war and protecting civilians, call on all countries to take steps to prevent a spillover, and demand immediate humanitarian access to Gaza.