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Guterres calls on Israel and Hamas to end Gaza war

Secretary-General António Guterres briefs the press on the situation in Gaza.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Secretary-General António Guterres briefs the press on the situation in Gaza.

Guterres calls on Israel and Hamas to end Gaza war

Peace and Security

With the situation in Gaza “worsening by the day”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Tuesday appealed for Israeli and Hamas leaders currently taking part in intense negotiations to reach a ceasefire agreement.

“For the sake of the people of Gaza, for the sake of the hostages and their families in Israel and for the sake of the region and the wider world, I strongly encourage the Government of Israel and the Hamas leadership to reach now an agreement,” he said, speaking to journalists in New York.

Mr. Guterres expressed fear that without an agreement, “the war, with all its consequences both in Gaza and across the region, will worsen exponentially”.

Prevent Rafah escalation 

Nearly seven months have passed since the brutal Hamas-led attacks on Israel which sparked the current hostilities. 

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Recent weeks have seen airstrikes on the Rafah area in southern Gaza, where more than 1.2 million people are now sheltering with limited access to food, medical care and other services and with nowhere safe to go. 

Mr. Guterres said a military assault there “would be an unbearable escalation, killing thousands more civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee”. Furthermore, it would have a devastating impact on Palestinians in Gaza, with serious repercussions in the occupied West Bank and across the wider region.

“All members of the Security Council, and many other governments, have clearly expressed their opposition to such an operation. I appeal for all those with influence over Israel to do everything in their power to prevent it,” he said. 

Avert ‘human-made famine’ 

Turning to the north, where vulnerable people are already dying of hunger and disease, he urged the international community to “do everything possible to avert an entirely preventable human-made famine”.

Although incremental progress has been made, much more is urgently needed, including the promised opening of two crossing points between Israel and northern Gaza, so that aid can be brought in from Ashdod Port and Jordan.

Lack of security is a major obstacle to distributing aid across Gaza, and he stressed that humanitarian convoys, facilities and personnel as well as people in need “must not be targets”. 

“We welcome aid delivery by air and sea, but there is no alternative to the massive use of land routes,” he said, before again calling on Israel to allow and facilitate safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access throughout Gaza, including for the UN’s Palestine relief agency, UNRWA

People gather outside the remains of Al Shifa hospital, Gaza's largest health facility.
People gather outside the remains of Al Shifa hospital, Gaza's largest health facility.

Health system ‘decimated’ 

Mr. Guterres also addressed how the war has “decimated” the health system in the enclave, where two thirds of hospitals and health centres are out of commission, while many of those remaining are seriously damaged. 

Some hospitals now resemble cemeteries,” he said, voicing deep alarm over reports of the discovery of mass graves at several locations, including at Al-Shifa and Nasser hospitals.

Mass graves and accountability 

More than 390 bodies reportedly have been exhumed at Nasser Hospital alone, and “there are competing narratives around several of these mass graves, including serious allegations that some of those buried were unlawfully killed,” he added.

The UN chief said it is imperative that independent international forensic investigators are allowed immediate access to these sites to determine the precise circumstances under which hundreds of Palestinians lost their lives and were buried or reburied.

“The families of the dead and missing have a right to know what happened, and the world has a right to accountability for any violations of international law that may have taken place,” he said.

Praise for UNRWA

The Secretary-General ended his remarks by drawing attention to UNRWA and its “irreplaceable and indispensable work” supporting millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

“UNRWA’s presence across the region is a source of hope and stability. Its education, healthcare and other services provide a sense of normality, safety and stability to desperate communities,” he said.

The agency recently appealed for $1.2 billion to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and to respond to needs in the West Bank, where violence is rising.

UNRWA largely depends on donors and some 16 countries halted their contributions earlier this year following Israeli allegations that 12 staff were involved in the 7 October attacks. The UN appointed an independent body to review the agency's efforts to ensure the humanitarian principle of neutrality. 

The panel, headed by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, recently published its report which found that “the set of rules and the mechanisms and procedures in place [at UNRWA] are the most elaborate within the UN system”.

Mr. Guterres said an action plan is being put in place to implement the report’s recommendations, and he appealed for cooperation from donors, host countries and staff.

Step up support

Meanwhile, most countries that suspended contributions to UNRWA have resumed them, and the Secretary-General said “we are optimistic that others will join.” Additionally, some UN Member States have given to the agency for the first time, while private donors have also provided support.

However, as a funding gap persists, he urged Member States and donors to pledge generously to ensure the agency’s work continues. 

This is the moment to reaffirm our hope for and contributions to a two-State solution – the only sustainable path to peace and security for Israelis, Palestinians and the wider region,” he concluded.