Visiting Gaza, UN Chief Calls to Lift Blockade in Face of Humanitarian Crisis

After touring the Israel-Gaza border by helicopter and a Hamas cross-border tunnel, Guterres says 'I have a dream' to return to Gaza as part of a Palestinian state

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gestures during a news conference at UN-run school in the Gaza Strip on August 30, 2017.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gestures during a news conference at UN-run school in the Gaza Strip on August 30, 2017. MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip during his first visit to the Hamas-run enclave on Wednesday.

Guterres arrived in the Gaza Strip for a several-hour visit to check the humanitarian situation, officials said.

“I am deeply moved to be in Gaza today, unfortunately to witness one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises that I’ve seen in many years working as a humanitarian in the United Nations,” Guterres said, according to AFP. He later said 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrives to a press conference at the UN Aleppo Elementary school in Beit Lahiya, the Gaza Strip on Wednesday August 30, 2017.
Adel Hana/AP

Making "two strong appeals" during his remarks, Guterres urged for Palestinian unity "in line with the principles of the Palestinian Liberation Organization." Division, he says, "only undermines the cause of the Palestinian people."

"I have a dream," he said before making his second appeal. "A dream to one day see the holy land with two states - Israel and Palestine - living in peace and security together." To achieve that goal, he proposed a credible political process and actions to improve living conditions of Palestinians. It is “important to open the closures” imposed on the enclave, he said. 

Guterres is visiting the main UN headquarters in Gaza City to receive a briefing from UN leaders, touring the Gaza Strip and meeting with both Palestinian notables and Gaza clan leaders.

The UN chief is not scheduled to meet with any Hamas leaders.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres inside Hamas tunnels accompanied by Israeli ambassador to the United Nations on August 30, 2017.
IDF Spokesperson's Unit

The UN chief's visit comes as the coastal enclave faces a mounting humanitarian crisis. The Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, has recently decreased electricity payments and medical services to the strip, plunging much of the area into darkness. 

Guterres and his delegation's convoy of UN vehicles crossed in the Gaza Strip through Erez border crossing point, eyewitnesses said. Dozens of Palestinians attempted to block the cars in protest.

Earlier on Wednesday, Guterres took a helicopter tour of the Israel-Gaza border Wednesday, viewing the Gaza front from the air before visiting the isolated territory.

Guterres was accompanied by Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, and Aviv Kochavi, Israel's deputy military chief. Danon warned Guterres that Gaza's Hamas rulers have been exploiting international humanitarian aid to dig tunnels aimed at attacking Israel. He says: "Instead of working to ensure a better future for their children, Hamas has turned the residents of Gaza into hostages."

Guterres met local Israeli residents of the area surrounding Gaza before heading to the territory. Earlier in the day, Guterres toured Hamas cross-border transport and tunnels.

On Tuesday, Hamas leaders said Guterres is "unwelcomed" in Gaza because they said he expressed solidarity with Israeli hostages in Gaza and neglected Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. 

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is accompanied by Israel's Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon as he visits a military operations room in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, just outside the Gaza strip on August 30, 2017.
AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

Later, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, said the militant group "welcomes" Guterres and hopes he will work to end the Israeli blockade of the strip.

Guterres is on his first visit to the region since taking office at the beginning of the year. His meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders are aimed at encouraging the resumption of peace talks.

In Ramallah, Secretary Guterres said on Tuesday that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the only viable option on Tuesday after his meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, the AFP reported.   

The UN chief's statements came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed not to remove any Israeli settlements from the West Bank.

"We returned here in order to stay here forever," Netanyahu said on Monday at an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Israel's capture of the West Bank.