It is important to recognise that the October 7 attack on Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas “did not happen in a vacuum”, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said at the UN Security Council on Tuesday.
“The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation,” Guterres said. “They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plight have been vanishing.”
On October 7, Hamas launched a multi-pronged attack on Israel taking over 100 hostages. In response, Israel declared a siege on Gaza and has been conducting air strikes on the narrow strip of land. Tel Aviv has also stopped water, fuel and power supplies to the region’s 2.3 million residents.
The Israeli forces have gathered around Gaza over the past week and are preparing for a full-scale ground offensive to destroy Hamas’ military infrastructure.
More than 5,000 persons have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza in the past two weeks, the United Nations has said. Israel said on October 20 that 1,400 persons died in attacks on the country from Gaza.
On Tuesday, Guterres said that nothing can justify deliberately killing, injuring and kidnapping civilians or launching rockets against civilian targets by Hamas. However, he added that it was crucial to understand the context of the attacks and that it cannot be used as a justification for Israel’s attacks on the Gaza strip and civilians.
“But the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas,” he said. “And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
He said that it was “deeply alarming” that the relentless bombardment of Gaza by Israeli forces, the level of civilian casualties and the destruction of entire neighborhoods continue.
Guterres added that protecting civilians during armed conflict is paramount.
“Protecting civilians does not mean ordering more than one million people to evacuate to the south, where there is no shelter, no food, no water, no medicine and no fuel, and then continuing to bomb the south itself,” he said.
Before attacking the Gaza Strip, Israel had issued a warning that it would be launching airstrikes in the region. However, several people in the region are trapped since they are surrounded by Israeli territory, and the Egyptian border in the south of the Gaza Strip has also restricted arrival of Palestinian refugees.
Neighbouring countries like Egypt and Jordan have said that by taking the refugees, Israel will take over the remaining Palestinian territory.
Guterres’ comments have angered Israel that has sought his resignation.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said that Guterres is not fit to lead the organisation. “I call on him to resign immediately,” he said in a tweet. “There is no justification or point in talking to those who show compassion for the most terrible atrocities committed against the citizens of Israel and the Jewish people. There are simply no words.”
Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Eli Cohen, who participated in the Security Council ministerial, also cancelled his meeting with Guterres that was supposed to take place on Tuesday.
Civilian casualties matter of serious concern: India
India expressed its deep concern at the deteriorating security situation and large-scale loss of civilian lives in the ongoing conflict at the Security Council meeting on the situation in the West Asia.
“Civilian casualties in the ongoing conflict are a matter of serious and continuing concern,” India’s Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN, Ambassador R Ravindra said. “All parties must protect civilians, especially women and children. The unfolding humanitarian crisis needs to be addressed.”
India also urged Israel and Hamas to work towards peace and restart direct negotiations. Ravindra said that India has always supported a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine issue.
He said that India advocates for establishing a sovereign, independent and viable state of Palestine, living within secure and recognised borders and taking into account the legitimate security concerns of Israel.