U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his extreme alarm Monday about the resumption of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, including Hamas rocket fire on Israel and the renewal and expansion of Israel’s airstrikes and military ground operations into the southern Gaza Strip.
“The U.N. continues to appeal to Israeli forces to avoid further action that would exacerbate the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza and to spare civilians from more suffering,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement. “Civilians — including health workers, journalists and U.N. personnel — and civilian infrastructure must be protected at all times.”
Guterres called on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and renewed his call for a sustained humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza and for the unconditional and immediate release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas.
“The number of civilians killed is rapidly increasing,” said Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of UNRWA, the U.N. agency that assists Palestinians.
“Civilians, including men, women, children, older persons, the sick and people with disabilities, are the most to suffer,” Lazzarini said.
Israel vowed to destroy Hamas, which governs Gaza, after the militant group sent fighters rampaging into Israel on October 7, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israel. Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and others, also took about 240 people hostage. More than 100 of the Israeli hostages have since been released, most of them during a weeklong truce agreement between Israel and Hamas.
Israel's air and ground military operations in Gaza have killed more than 15,500 Palestinians, about 70 percent women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health.
More than 1.8 million Gazans are believed to be displaced by the fighting and Israeli evacuation orders. About 1.2 million of them are in 156 severely overcrowded U.N. shelters.
Guterres also reiterated the need for an unimpeded, adequate and sustained flow of humanitarian assistance to Gaza. The U.N. said Monday that the current situation on the ground is severely impeding its ability to address humanitarian needs. Limited aid was distributed in Rafah on Sunday but largely stopped in the neighboring Khan Younis because of the hostilities.
“The Israeli authorities continue to restrict the flow of humanitarian supplies, including fuel, forcing the U.N. to only use the ill-equipped crossing point with Egypt,” Lazzarini said, reiterating his call for Israel to open more border crossings with Gaza for humanitarians.
Israel has told Palestinians in areas around the Gazan city of Khan Younis to evacuate to Rafah, farther south, near the border with Egypt. Many of them have been displaced more than once before from other parts of Gaza.
“The order created panic, fear and anxiety,” Lazzarini said, adding that it pushes people into an area less than one-third of the Gaza Strip.
West Bank boiling
Guterres also expressed alarm at the growing violence in the West Bank, including Israeli security operations, high numbers of fatalities and arrests, rising settler violence and attacks on Israelis by Palestinians, his spokesperson said.
According to the U.N. department of humanitarian affairs, since Hamas’ terror attacks on October 7, Israeli forces have killed 244 Palestinians, including 65 children, in the West Bank. Israeli settlers have killed another eight people, including one child.
The U.N. Security Council met for 2½ hours in a closed session Monday to discuss the collapse of the seven-day humanitarian truce and the renewed hostilities.
France’s envoy expressed concern about Palestinians in Gaza being pushed farther south and renewed calls for a humanitarian truce.
“In the short term, what we would need is a humanitarian truce leading to a cease-fire,” Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere told reporters after the meeting. “In the first time of this crisis, the people of Gaza were pushed from the north to the south. Now, I think they are in the south and are asked to leave again. So, where should they go? It’s really time to have a truce and a cease-fire.”
Separately Israel, along with several Jewish organizations, held an event Monday inside the United Nations to spotlight atrocities they accuse Hamas of committing against women on October 7, including rape and mutilation, which they say the international community has been largely indifferent to. Ahead of the session, dozens of women waving Israeli flags and signs gathered outside the United Nations.
"This was premeditated. This was planned. This was instructed,” Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan told the meeting of mostly female activists and Israel supporters, addressing the violence against women. “Hamas terrorists were told to commit these acts of sheer evil in order to terrorize us and our families, in order to drive us away from Israel out of fear. This is the enemy we are facing.”
Erdan focused his anger on the U.N.’s main agency for women, saying it failed to speak out early and strongly against sexual attacks on Israeli women.
“Sadly, the very international bodies that are supposedly the defenders of all women showed that when it comes to Israelis, indifference is acceptable,” he said. “To these organizations, Israeli women are not women. The rape of Israelis is not an act of rape. Their silence has been deafening.”
Erdan said he sent photographic evidence in two separate letters to U.N. Women, which were ignored.
During a Security Council meeting on November 22, U.N. Women Executive Director Sima Bahous told the council she was alarmed by reports of gender-based and sexual violence.
“I reiterate my call from when I last spoke in these chambers in October, that every act of violence against women and girls, including sexual violence, is unequivocally condemned and must be fully investigated with the utmost priority,” she said.
In a statement on December 1, U.N. Women condemned Hamas and called for the investigation, prosecution and accountability for all acts of gender-based violence committed on or after October 7.
In Washington, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters the Biden administration has “no reason to doubt those reports” of sexual violence by Hamas, adding that Washington does not have its “own independent assessments to make right now.”