| 23 July 2024, Tuesday |

UN chief Guterres calls on Security Council to declare ceasefire in Gaza

In a bold constitutional action, the UN secretary-general has utilized one of the limited authorities granted by the Charter. He urged the Security Council to announce a ceasefire, aiming to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza that holds the potential for severe and lasting consequences for both Palestinians and regional peace and stability.
He cautioned that such an outcome should be avoided “at all cost.” In a letter to the Security Council seen by Arab News, Guterres invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter, which says the secretary-general “may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said this was the first time Guterres had felt compelled to invoke the article since taking office in 2017.

In his letter, Guterres said the more than eight weeks of fighting had “created appalling human suffering, physical destruction and collective trauma across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

He added: “Since the start of Israel’s military operation, more than 15,000 people have reportedly been killed, over 40 per cent of whom were children. Thousands of others have been injured. More than half of all homes have been destroyed.”

He said: “Some 80 per cent of the population of 2.2 million has been forcibly displaced, into increasingly smaller areas. More than 1.1 million people have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities across Gaza, creating overcrowded, undignified and unhygienic conditions. Others have nowhere to shelter and find themselves on the streets.”

Guterres also said “the health care system in Gaza is collapsing. Hospitals have turned into battlegrounds. Nowhere is safe in Gaza.”

He warned that amid the constant bombardment across the enclave “and without shelter or the essentials to survive, I expect public order to completely break down soon.”

Guterres reiterated his plea for a “humanitarian ceasefire to be declared,” adding: “This is urgent. The civilian population must be spared from greater harm.”

Dujarric called it a “very powerful move” on behalf of the secretary-general, and expressed hope that the 15-member Security Council “will be moved to push and put in place a humanitarian ceasefire.”

The spokesman said: “I think we’re getting to a point of near paralysis of our humanitarian operations where 15,000 people have reportedly already died, where 130 of our (UNRWA) colleagues have died. (The secretary-general) doesn’t use the word catastrophe lightly.”

Asked by Arab News what took Guterres so long to invoke Article 99 given that “catastrophe” was used from the first week to describe Gaza’s plight, Dujarric said the secretary-general has been “extremely clear, has been involved. Everything is done, in a sense, in a methodical way.

“One doesn’t invoke this article lightly … Given the situation on the ground and the risk of complete collapse not only of our humanitarian operations but of civil order, it’s something that he felt needed to be done now.”

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme sounded the alarm that “the resumption of hostilities in Gaza will only intensify the catastrophic hunger crisis that already threatens to overwhelm the civilian population.”

In a statement, the UN agency said: “The renewed fighting makes the distribution of aid almost impossible and endangers the lives of humanitarian workers.”

The UAE and Russia have called for a Security Council meeting on Friday “in the light of the deteriorating situation on the ground and given today’s appeal of the secretary-general for an urgent humanitarian ceasefire.”

The two council members have said they want the talks to focus on “the resumption of hostilities in Gaza and the inconsistency of the plans announced by Israel to its obligations under International Humanitarian Law.”

  • Arab News