Speaking in Beijing, Mr. Guterres said that a ceasefire would “provide sufficient time and space” to realize two essential appeals which he made earlier this week: to Hamas, for the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages held in Gaza, and to Israel, to immediately allow aid to enter the sealed-off enclave in the throes of a devastating humanitarian crisis.
“The region is on the precipice,” he warned.
The call came a day after hundreds were killed in a strike at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, which Mr. Guterres strongly condemned, stressing that hospitals and all medical personnel are protected under international law.
Both sides have blamed each other, with Gaza’s de facto authorities accusing the Israeli military, who in turn held misfired rockets launched by Islamic Jihad militants towards Israel responsible.
The UN Security Council is set to meet at 10am local time on Wednesday morning in New York to discuss the crisis and vote on a second resolution calling for action to de-escalate, with diplomatic tensions rising in the wake of the deadly hospital blast.
US President Joe Biden has arrived in Israel where he was met by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Biden pledged support for Israel and said he was “deeply saddened and outraged” by the lethal explosion at the hospital in Gaza City.
The head of the UN Palestine refugee agency, Philippe Lazzarini addressed an emergency meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and said “an unprecedented catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes.”
“Gaza is being strangled and the world seems to have lost its humanity“, he added. “Every hour we receive more and more desperate calls for help from people across the Gaza Strip. Thousands of civilians were killed over the last 12 days, including women and children.”
Aid stuck at the border
Trucks carrying lifesaving aid remained lined up at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. In a post on social platform X on Wednesday, UN World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus deplored that WHO supplies have been “stuck” at the border for four days.
“Every second we wait to get medical aid in, we lose lives,” he said.
Relentless diplomatic efforts by senior UN officials in favour of humanitarian access were set to continue, with the organization’s relief chief Martin Griffiths on the ground in Cairo, where he will be joined by Secretary-General Guterres on Thursday.
Mr. Griffiths wrote on X on Wednesday that providing aid to the people of Gaza is “a matter of life or death”.
“Doing so in a “sustained, unimpeded, predictable manner” is a “humanitarian imperative,” he added.
‘Too many lives in the balance’
Food, water, critical medicines and health supplies are running out fast in the enclave, where over a quarter of the population has been displaced since the start of the conflict. WHO said on Tuesday that out of 35 hospitals there, four are not functioning “due to severe damage and targeting”. Only eight of the 22 primary healthcare centres run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) are partially functional.
Mr. Guterres underscored that aid is desperately needed to respond to the “most basic needs” of the people of Gaza, the “overwhelming majority” of whom are women and children.
“Too many lives – and the fate of the entire region – hang in the balance,” he said.
More to come on this developing story soon…