UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday described Gaza as "hell on earth" for children, appealing to Israel for rapid and unhindered aid access and telling the 193-member General Assembly he would launch an appeal for humanitarian funding.
Diplomatic efforts toward a cease-fire in the Gaza war gathered pace on Thursday amid a worsening humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territory, but fighting between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas continued.
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The 193-member UN General Assembly met on Thursday to discuss the renewed violence, but no action was expected.
"If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza today," said Guterres, adding that he would launch a full humanitarian appeal for funding as soon as possible.
Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, spoke with Guterres ahead of the meeting and told him he was disappointed because the secretary-general was equating a democratic nation to a terror organization in his statement. Erdan departed the meeting as it was ongoing, during remarks delivered by the Palestinian foreign minister, Riyad Al-Maliki. According to sources in Israel's UN delegation, Al-Maliki blamed Israel for deliberately massacring children in their sleep.
"The hostilities have caused serious damage to vital civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including roads and electricity lines, contributing to a humanitarian emergency. Crossings into Gaza have been closed and power shortages are affecting water supplies," Guterres added.
Guterres called for an immediate cease-fire and urged Israel's military to exercise maximum restraint and Hamas to stop indiscriminate rocket fire. He also called on Israel to stop demolitions and evictions in the Palestinian Territories.
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"There is no justification, including counterterrorism or self-defense, for the abdication by the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law," Guterres said as he condemned both indiscriminate attacks and attacks against military objectives that cause disroportionate loss of civilian life.
"Access for humanitarian goods is paramount. Attacks by militant groups on areas surrounding crossing points are unacceptable," Guterres said. "At the same time, Israel has a duty to allow and facilitate rapid and unhindered access for humanitarian aid ... into Gaza."
Hundreds of buildings and homes have been destroyed or damaged, Guterres said, and airstrikes have damaged several hospitals. Some 50,000 people were seeking shelter in UN schools, mosques and other places with little access to water, food, hygiene or health services, Guterres added.
The U.S. mission to the United Nations on Wednesday expressed opposition to a French push for a Security Council resolution on the conflict. France has circulated a draft text to council members, diplomats said. The United States has traditionally shielded its ally Israel at the United Nations.
The French draft text, seen by Reuters, demands an immediate cessation of hostilities and condemns "the indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian areas," without laying blame. It urges protection of civilians and revival of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians with the aim of creating two states.