UN chief urges protection of Gaza civilians, cites violations of humanitarian law

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made an impassioned plea on Tuesday for the protection of civilians caught in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas militants, expressing deep concern about “clear violations of international humanitarian law” in Gaza.

According to Gaza’s health ministry, more than 700 Palestinians lost their lives in overnight Israeli airstrikes, marking the highest 24-hour death toll since the commencement of Israel’s bombing campaign to quell Hamas militants following a deadly attack on October 7.

In a briefing to the 15-member U.N. Security Council, Guterres emphasized that in a “critical moment like this,” it is imperative to reiterate that there are established rules in warfare, starting with the fundamental principle of respecting and safeguarding the well-being of civilians.

Guterres acknowledged that “the attacks by Hamas did not occur in isolation.” The Palestinian population has endured 56 years of a stifling occupation, he said. However, he stressed that the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the shocking attacks by Hamas, nor can those attacks justify the collective punishment inflicted on the Palestinian population.

Israel has imposed a comprehensive blockade on Gaza, and international diplomatic efforts have concentrated on providing aid to the region, home to 2.3 million people, through Egypt’s Rafah crossing, the primary entry and exit point that doesn’t directly border Israel.

Since October 21, 54 trucks have entered Gaza, transporting vital supplies such as food, medicine, and water, though Guterres characterized this as “a mere drop of aid in an ocean of need.”

Lynn Hastings, a senior U.N. aid official, informed the council that another 20 trucks were scheduled to cross into Gaza on Tuesday. However, the crucial supply of fuel has yet to be permitted, and the U.N. has issued a stark warning that its reserves will be depleted within a matter of days.

Israel’s apprehension centers around the potential misuse of fuel deliveries by Hamas.

“While negotiations with the Israeli government continue regarding the most effective method to deliver fuel to Gaza, we currently have 400,000 liters loaded on trucks and ready to go. This would provide fuel for approximately 2-1/2 more days,” Hastings explained.

As Israel prepares for a potential ground offensive in Gaza, it previously cautioned on October 13 that 1.1 million Palestinians should relocate to the southern region of Gaza.

Addressing the council on behalf of U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths, Hastings highlighted the dire circumstances in Gaza: “There is nowhere to seek refuge in Gaza. When it comes to decisions on whether and where to flee, civilians find themselves in an untenable position.”

Guterres also revealed that at least 35 U.N. staff members have tragically lost their lives during the ongoing bombardment of Gaza.