NEW YORK (Reuters) – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday that the number of civilians killed in the Gaza Strip shows that something is clearly wrong with Israeli military operations against Palestinian Hamas militants.
Israel pledged to eliminate Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, after the militants killed 1,400 people and took more than 240 hostage in an attack on October 7. Israel bombed the Gaza Strip, inhabited by 2.3 million people, from the air, imposed a siege and launched a ground invasion.
“There are violations by Hamas when they have human shields,” Guterres told the Reuters Next conference. “But when one looks at the number of civilians killed in military operations, something is clearly wrong.”
Palestinian officials said that 10,569 people have been killed in Gaza so far, 40% of whom are children.
“It is also important that we make Israel understand that it is not in Israel’s interest to see every day the terrible picture of the tragic humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people,” Guterres said. “This does not help Israel in terms of world public opinion.”
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, rejected Guterres’ statements and said that the death toll announced by the Ministry of Health in Gaza could not be trusted. He said that Israel was working to limit civilian casualties, citing an evacuation corridor, while Hamas was targeting civilians.
“Does the Secretary-General dare to say that because German civilian casualties during World War II were higher than American or British civilian casualties, that there is something wrong with American and British military operations when fighting a genocidal regime?” he told Reuters.
Discernment is required
While Guterres strongly condemned Hamas’ attack on Israel, he said: “We must distinguish: Hamas is one thing and the Palestinian people are another thing.”
“If we do not make this distinction, I believe that it is humanity itself that will lose its meaning,” Guterres said.
Guterres compared the number of children killed in Gaza with the toll of conflicts around the world, which he reports annually to the United Nations Security Council. He said on Monday that Gaza had become a “cemetery for children.”
“Every year, the highest number of killings of children by any actor in all the conflicts we see is in the hundreds,” Guterres said.
He added: “In the space of a few days, thousands and thousands of children were killed in Gaza, which means that there is also a clear error in the way military operations are conducted.”
The UN report on children and armed conflict includes a list aimed at exposing parties to conflicts in the hope of getting them to implement measures to protect children. The matter has long been controversial, with diplomats saying that Israel has applied pressure in recent years in an attempt to remain off the list.
In June, Guterres added the Russian armed forces to the list of perpetrators in the report after the United Nations verified that they killed 136 children in Ukraine in 2022. The next report is scheduled to be issued in mid-2024.
Guterres described the humanitarian situation in Gaza as “catastrophic.” The UN Secretary-General is pressing for a humanitarian ceasefire to allow aid to reach Gaza. He also said that 92 people working with the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) were killed.
“It is absolutely essential – absolutely essential – that there is a flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza that matches the enormous needs that the population is facing,” Guterres said.
The United Nations is working to increase the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Guterres said that during the past eighteen days, only 630 trucks were able to enter through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt. The United Nations also wants to be able to use the Kerem Shalom border crossing controlled by Israel.
“We are conducting intensive negotiations with Israel, the United States and Egypt, in order to ensure that we have effective humanitarian aid to Gaza,” Guterres said. “So far it has been too little, too late.”
When it comes to what happens in Gaza after the fighting ends, Guterres outlined what he called the “best-case scenario” — that a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority is able to assume political control.
Guterres acknowledged that there must be a transitional period negotiated with the Palestinians and Israel. He described it as “premature” to talk about a possible United Nations peacekeeping force in the future, saying that such a step had not been discussed in the world organization.
“Many entities can play a role. The United Nations can play a role. Many relevant countries in the region can play a role. The United States can play a role,” Guterres said, adding that this should then be the starting point for “Serious negotiations for a two-state solution” with the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Writing by Michelle Nichols. Edited by Will Dunham
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