UN Steps Up Gaza Cease-Fire Calls With Strongest Move Since 1971

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United Nations chief Antonio Guterres dramatically escalated his call for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, invoking the most powerful tool available to a secretary general for the first time in five decades, which prompted new efforts among Security Council members to act.

Writing to the Security Council on Wednesday, Guterres said the situation in Gaza is “fast deteriorating into a catastrophe” and that he expects public order “to completely break down soon,” which would allow even less aid to enter the region. “An even worse situation could unfold, including epidemic diseases and increased pressure for mass displacement” of Gaza’s population into neighboring countries, he said.

Guterres sent the letter under Article 99 of the UN’s charter, which allows the secretary-general to bring any issue seen as threatening international peace to the Security Council’s attention, the UN said.

It marked the first time he’s directly invoked his most powerful diplomatic tool since taking charge of the global body in 2017, and the first time the office has explicitly invoked the article since 1971, during the crisis between India and Pakistan that led to the birth of Bangladesh.

In response to the letter, the United Arab Emirates plans to introduce a Security Council resolution Friday that would call for an immediate cease-fire, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations. The proposal would call on all parties to comply with their obligations under international law.

The UN’s latest call for a halt comes as Israeli troops push deeper into the south of Gaza and battle Hamas militants. The conflict began when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, according to the Israeli government. Israel’s aerial bombardment and ground attack since then has killed more than 16,000 Palestinians, according to the health ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by the US and European Union.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a briefing with other members of his war cabinet, rebuffed mounting pressure to halt the military campaign in the southern Gaza Strip, vowing to press on until Hamas is eradicated.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, accused the secretary general of reaching “a new moral low” following the release of the letter.

“This is more proof of the secretary general’s moral distortion and his bias against Israel,” Erdan said in a response letter. “The secretary general’s call for a cease-fire is actually a call to keep Hamas’ reign of terror in Gaza.”

Many Palestinians escaped the initial Israeli onslaught, which was concentrated in northern Gaza, by fleeing to the south of the territory. That has increased the risks to civilians, now that the south is also under attack.

“The situation is fast deteriorating into a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole and for peace and security in the region,” Guterres said in his letter.

The Security Council on Nov. 15 approved a resolution calling for humanitarian pauses in Israel’s campaign and the release of hostages held by Hamas. A truce was implemented about a week later, but fighting resumed on Dec. 1 when the sides failed to agree on an extension.

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