Calls Grow at UN for Humanitarian Cease-Fire in Israel-Hamas War

Calls grew Tuesday at the United Nations for a humanitarian cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas, but the appeals were likely to go unheeded as Hamas fired more rockets at Israel and Israel stepped up its bombardment of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.

“How can you agree to a cease-fire with someone who swore to kill and destroy your own existence? How?” Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen asked a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the conflict attended by many foreign ministers.

Of calls for a proportional response to Hamas’ October 7 terror attacks that killed 1,400 people in Israel, Cohen said the only proportional response is “the total destruction” of Hamas, which he said is both Israel’s right and duty.

“This war was imposed on us. We have not chosen this war,” Cohen said. “But have no doubt, we are going to win it. We are going to win it, because this war is for life. This war must be your war as well.”

Israel's Foreign Affairs Minister Eli Cohen speaks during a meeting on the conflict between Israel and Hamas at U.N. headquarters, Oct. 24, 2023.

Israel’s Foreign Affairs Minister Eli Cohen speaks during a meeting on the conflict between Israel and Hamas at U.N. headquarters, Oct. 24, 2023.

He also called on Qatar, which has relations with Hamas, to immediately intercede to get the more than 200 Israeli and foreign hostages released.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the international community must unequivocally condemn Hamas’ terror attack.

“We have to ask – indeed it must be asked – where is the outrage?” he asked the council. “Where is the revulsion? Where is the rejection? Where is the explicit condemnation of these horrors?”

He said nations agree on the need to protect civilians.

“As President [Joe] Biden has made clear from the outset of this crisis, while Israel has the right – indeed, the obligation – to defend itself, the way it does so matters,” he said.

Blinken added that humanitarian assistance must reach the people in Gaza and civilians must be kept out of harm’s way.

“It means humanitarian pauses must be considered for these purposes,” Blinken said.

And he cautioned actors in the region, specifically Iran and its proxies, to refrain from stoking the conflict’s spread.

“So let me say this before this council and let me say what we have consistently said to Iranian officials through other channels: the United States does not seek conflict with Iran. We do not want this war to widen,” Blinken said. “But if Iran or its proxies attack U.S. personnel anywhere, make no mistake: We will defend our people; we will defend our security – swiftly and decisively.”

The toll on Palestinian civilians from Israel’s response to Hamas’ attack has seen large-scale suffering and death in a region that is no stranger to it. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 5,000 Palestinians have died in 18 days of Israeli bombardments.

“The urgent solution required from the council today is to call for an immediate cessation of the Israeli aggression and a cease-fire, and to work urgently to secure humanitarian access in all parts of the Gaza Strip,” Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told council members.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki, bottom right, speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Oct. 24, 2023.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki, bottom right, speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Oct. 24, 2023.

He said that while nothing justifies the killing of Israeli civilians, the same can be said for the killing of Palestinian ones, and he warned that more killing would never bring Israel the security it seeks.

“Only peace will. Peace with Palestine and its people,” Maliki said. “The fate of the Palestinian people cannot continue to be dispossession, displacement and denial of rights and death. Our freedom is the condition of shared peace and security.”

Several Arab foreign ministers flew to New York for Tuesday’s meeting.

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan told reporters that a humanitarian cease-fire is urgent.

“We are facing a desperate situation in Gaza right now. We are facing an impending humanitarian catastrophe,” he said. “Every hour we speak, more civilians in Gaza are dying, more people are getting injured. The situation is getting worse. A cease-fire is an absolute necessity — immediately.”

Arab ministers also expressed concern over potential for the conflict to spread in the region.

“That threat is real,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told reporters. “We are all doing everything we can to stop it. There is the threat of this expanding into the West Bank, into Lebanon, and to other fronts. None of us wants that.”

But he said to stem that risk, the war must stop.

Diplomatic tensions

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated his appeal for an “immediate humanitarian cease-fire” to facilitate the release of all hostages and to “ease the epic suffering” of civilians in Gaza.

While he has repeatedly and strongly condemned Hamas’ terror attack and said nothing justifies it, he said Tuesday that it is important to also recognize that the attack did not happen in a vacuum.

“The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation,” Guterres said, adding that their land has been “steadily devoured” by settlements and plagued by violence.

“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.”

Israel’s foreign minister and U.N. ambassador were outraged by Guterres’ remarks. Cohen said he canceled a meeting Tuesday afternoon with the U.N. chief in protest. His U.N. envoy went further, calling for Guterres to resign and saying Israel would have to reassess its relations with the United Nations.

“The U.N. is failing,” Ambassador Gilad Erdan told reporters. “And you, Mr. Secretary-General, have lost all morality and impartiality because when you say those terrible words that these heinous attacks did not happen in a vacuum, you are tolerating terrorism; and by tolerating terrorism you are justifying terrorism.”

A Guterres spokesman would only say that the U.N. chief planned to meet with families of Israeli hostages who attended the council meeting Tuesday and that they would be accompanied by an Israeli diplomat.

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