/ 10 October 2023

Guterres deplores attacks on civilians in Israeli-Hamas war

World Leaders Gather In New York For The United Nations General Assembly
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

The secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, has deplored the loss of life of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians, as well as a military order to impose a total siege of Gaza as the Israeli-Hamas war rages for a fourth day.

In a statement, he called for an immediate end to indiscriminate attacks, noting that these have included shelling of health facilities and UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) shelters.

Guterres expressed “utter condemnation of the abhorrent attacks by Hamas and others against Israeli towns and villages in the Gaza periphery”, which has left some 900 Israelis dead and more than 2 500 injured.

“Sadly, these numbers are expected to rise as the attacks are ongoing and many remain unaccounted for.”

His remarks followed an extraordinary meeting of senior UN leaders to discuss Hamas’ unprecedented incursion into Israel and the retaliation by the Israeli military

“In addition, over one hundred, possibly more, Israelis — civilians and military — have been reported captured by armed groups, including women, children and the elderly,” Guterres said, adding that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have indiscriminately launched thousands of rockets at central Israel.

“I recognise the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people. But nothing can justify these acts of terror and the killing, maiming and abduction of civilians. I reiterate my call to immediately cease these attacks and release all hostages,” he said.

Hamas has reportedly threatened to execute a hostage each time an Israeli strike hit a Gaza home. 

The secretary-general added that he was “deeply alarmed” by reports that more than 500 Palestinians — including women and children — have been killed in Gaza and over 3 000 injured as Israel retaliated with air strikes.

The numbers were rising as Israeli operations continued, he said.

“While I recognise Israel’s legitimate security concerns, I also remind Israel that military operations must be conducted in strict accordance with international humanitarian law. Civilians must be respected and protected at all times. Civilian infrastructure must never be a target.”

The UN has received reports of Israeli missiles striking health facilities inside Gaza as well as multi-storied residential towers and a mosque, Guterres said. 

Two UNRWA schools sheltering displaced families in Gaza were also hit. At present, there are 137 000 people sheltering in UNRWA facilities, and the number is climbing as shelling of Gaza continues. On Monday, Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant ordered a total siege of Gaza.

“I am deeply distressed by today’s announcement that Israel will initiate a complete siege of the Gaza Strip, nothing allowed in — no electricity, food or fuel,” Guterres said.

“The humanitarian situation in Gaza was extremely dire before these hostilities; now it will only deteriorate exponentially.”

Gutteres said medical supplies, food, fuel and other humanitarian essentials were desperately needed, along with access for humanitarian personnel.

“Relief and entry of essential supplies into Gaza must be facilitated — and the UN will continue efforts to provide aid to respond to these needs. I urge all sides and the relevant parties to allow the UN access to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians trapped and helpless in the Gaza Strip.”

He urged the international community to mobilise support for the humanitarian effort and said the UN was engaging with regional leaders to prevent the war from spreading across the Middle East.

“It is vital to look to the long-term horizon and avoid irreversible action that would embolden extremists and doom any prospects for lasting peace,” he said.

“This most recent violence does not come in a vacuum. The reality is that it grows out of a long-standing conflict, with a 56-year long occupation and no political end in sight. It’s time to end this vicious circle of bloodshed, hatred and polarisation,” he said.

“Israel must see its legitimate needs for security materialised — and Palestinians must see a clear perspective for the establishment of their own state realised.”

Only a negotiated settlement that respected the legitimate needs of both sides, earlier agreements and international law could bring stability to the region, he stressed.