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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday that Gazans are experiencing an “epic” humanitarian crisis, as calls for a lasting ceasefire grow during the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas.
“The people of Gaza are in the midst of an epic humanitarian catastrophe before the eyes of the world,” said Mr Guterres. “We must not look away.”
The word body has scaled up the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza during the truce, but the UN chief said the level of aid “remains completely inadequate to meet the huge needs”.
“Intense negotiations are taking place to prolong the truce which we strongly welcome but we believe we need a true humanitarian ceasefire,” he said at a UN Security Council meeting led by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
The truce has brought a temporary halt to fighting that began on October 7, when Hamas militants poured over the border into Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping about 240. Israel's ensuing air and ground campaign in Gaza has killed more than 15,000 people, according to Hamas authorities.
Meanwhile, said Mr Guterres, an estimated 45 per cent of all homes in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed and 80 per cent of civilians in Gaza have been displaced.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki said his people are facing an “existential threat” amid the conflict.
“The massacres cannot be allowed to resume,” he told the UN Security Council. “This is not a war. This is a carnage that nothing and no one can justify.”
He emphasised the importance of enabling the Palestinian people to return to their homes and start the process of rebuilding their lives, while also calling for the lifting of the Israeli-imposed siege.
Mr Wang reiterated his country’s opposition to the collective punishment of people in Gaza as well as the forced transfer and attacking of Palestinian civilians.
He called for increased international and regional diplomatic efforts and the revitalising the political prospects of the two-state solution, adding that the resumption of fighting in the northern enclave could turn into a “calamity that devours the whole region”.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, along with his counterparts from Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia, called the pause a “small glimmer of hope” which has resulted in much needed aid entering Gaza and the release of some of the hostages.
But, he stressed, the aid that is entering is by “far less than is needed”.
“The danger is if this truce expires … we will return to the killing at the scale that we have seen, which is unbearable,” he said.
The US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield urged Israel to take “every possible measure to prevent civilian casualties as it exercises right to safeguard its people from acts of terror”.
“We know Hamas continues to use civilians as human shields purposefully cruelly putting Palestinian civilians in harm's way,” she said. “But this does not lessen Israel's responsibility to protect civilians, consistent with international humanitarian law.”
Washington, she added, would like to see “this humanitarian pause extended”.
“Israel has been very clear that it is prepared to continue the pause and fighting for every day that Hamas releases an additional 10 hostages. The ball is now in Hamas’s court, and if Hamas decides not to extend this deal, the responsibility will rest squarely on its shoulders,” she noted.
Khalifa Al Marar, UAE Minister of State, condemned Israel’s collective punishment policies against the Palestinian people, as well as the attempts to displace them.
“The future and the governance of Gaza must remain in the hands of the Palestinian people. Any presumptions or plans that seek to separate the leather strip from the state of Palestine are unacceptable,” the minister told the UN Security Council.
He also stressed the need for the international community to adopt unified rules condemning breaches of international humanitarian law, including the indiscriminate bombing of civilians and UN facilities.
The UAE minister accused Israel of continuing to build and expand its settlement activities, further dividing Palestinian land and violating international law and Security Council resolutions.
“These illegal practices must stop now.”