United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that there is no effective protection of civilians in Gaza and urged the UN Security Council to push for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.
Guterres convened an emergency meeting of the UNSC on Friday after weeks of fighting left more than 17,170 people dead in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza.
“The people of Gaza are looking into the abyss. The international community must do everything possible to end their ordeal. I urge the council to spare no effort to push for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire for the protection of civilians and for the urgent delivery of life-saving aid,” he said.
Promising to destroy Hamas, Israel has relentlessly bombarded Gaza and sent in tanks and ground troops since the war began on October 7 with unprecedented attacks by Hamas on southern Israel. Hamas members killed about 1,200 people and took approximately 240 people captive, 138 of whom have not been released, Israel has said.
“Some 130 hostages are still held captive. I call for their immediate and unconditional release, as well as their humane treatment and visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross until they are freed,” Guterres said.
“At the same time, the brutality perpetrated by Hamas can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
Guterres deployed rarely-used Article 99 of the UN Charter to bring to the council’s attention “any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security”.
Deputy US Ambassador Robert Wood told the Security Council the US did not support an immediate ceasefire.
“While the United States strongly supports the durable peace, in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security, we do not support calls for an immediate ceasefire,” he said.
“This would only plant the seeds for the next war,” he added.
Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays said that Guterres’s invocation of Article 99 of the UN charter was extremely rare.
“He [Guterres] has not done it before. In fact, formally invoking this hasn’t happened since 1989,” said Bays, adding that it wasn’t invoked in Syria, Yemen or Ukraine.
‘Laws of war’
After Guterres sent the urgent letter, the United Arab Emirates prepared a draft resolution that will be put to a vote, said the delegation from Ecuador, which chairs the council this month and thus decides on scheduling issues.
The document calls the humanitarian situation in Gaza “catastrophic” and “demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” the AFP news agency reported on Thursday.
The Security Council is due to vote on the proposed ceasefire plan later in the day, with several other previous attempts at brokering a ceasefire having been vetoed.
The short text also calls for the protection of civilians, the immediate and unconditional release of all the hostages Hamas is still holding, and humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip.
Reporting from the UN headquarters, Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey, said there were “incredibly intense” diplomatic efforts under way.
“The US position has not changed. The US still believes that the best way to get more aid into Gaza is through quiet negotiations which were ongoing with Israel and other partners in the region,” she said.
“Diplomatic efforts at the UN have been incredibly intense,” she said, explaining that Guterres has been speaking to key actors in the region in the run-up to the meeting.
Dozens killed in Israeli attacks
Vast areas of Gaza have been reduced to a wasteland. The UN says about 80 percent of the population has been displaced, facing shortages of food, fuel, water and medicine, along with the threat of disease.
“International humanitarian law includes the duty to protect civilians and to comply with the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution,” Guterres said.
“The laws of war also demand that civilians’ essential needs must be met, including by facilitating the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian relief,” he added.
On Friday, the health ministry reported that 40 people were killed in Israeli attacks near Gaza City, and “dozens” of others were killed in Jabalia and Khan Younis.
The Israeli military told residents of the Jabalia, Shujayea and Zeitoun districts of Gaza City to move west.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces shot dead six Palestinians on Friday, the territory’s health ministry said.