U.N. chief rejects Israel accusations he justified Hamas attacks

File picture of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to the media, after visiting the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, at Al Arish Airport, Egypt, October 20, 2023.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday rejected accusations by Israel that, in a statement to the Security Council, he had justified attacks by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel.

“I am shocked by the misrepresentations by some of my statement… as if I was justifying acts of terror by Hamas. This is false. It was the opposite,” he told reporters, without specifically naming Israel.

Mr. Guterres on Tuesday pleaded for civilians to be protected in the war between Israel and Hamas, voicing concern about “clear violations of international humanitarian law” in the Gaza Strip.

He told the 15-member U.N. Security Council that it was vital to be clear that war has rules, starting with the fundamental principle of respecting and protecting civilians.

“It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation,” Mr. Guterres said.

“But the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people,” he said.

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan described Mr. Guterres’ speech as “shocking” and called on Guterres to resign immediately, while Israel’s visiting Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said he would not meet with Guterres on Tuesday as planned.

Mr. Guterres instead met with family representatives of the hostages held in Gaza.

Mr. Guterres noted on Wednesday that in his statement to the Security Council he “condemned unequivocally” the October 7 Hamas attacks that killed 1,400 people, saying: “Nothing can justify the deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians – or the launching of rockets against civilian targets.”

Referring to his statement on Wednesday, he said: “I believe it is necessary to set the record straight – especially out of respect for the victims and their families.”

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