Israel has vowed again to destroy Hamas, rejecting calls from the United Nations chief, the Palestinians and many countries at a high-level UN meeting for a ceasefire, and declaring that the war in Gaza is not only its war but “the war of the free world”.
Foreign minister Eli Cohen also dismissed calls for “proportionality” in the country’s response to Hamas’s surprise attacks on Israel on October 7 which killed 1,400 people and has since led to more than 5,700 Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip, according to its Health Ministry.
“Tell me, what is a proportionate response for killing of babies, for rape (of) women and burn them, for beheading a child?” he asked. “How can you agree to a ceasefire with someone who swore to kill and destroy your own existence?”
He told the UN Security Council that the proportionate response to the October 7 massacre is “a total destruction to the last one of the Hamas”, calling the extremist group “the new Nazis”.
He added: “It is not only Israel’s right to destroy Hamas. It’s our duty.”
Cohen called the Hamas attacks “a wake-up call for the entire free world” against extremism, and he urged “the civilised world to stand united behind Israel to defeat Hamas”.
He warned that today it is Israel, and tomorrow Hamas and the attackers “will be at everyone’s doorstep”, starting with the West.
Cohen accused Qatar of financing Hamas and said the fate of the more than 200 hostages taken from Israel, some of whose families came to the UN meeting, was in the hands of its emir.
Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki demanded an end to the Israeli attacks.
“We are here today to stop the killing, to stop… the ongoing massacres being deliberately and systematically and savagely perpetrated by Israel, the occupying power, against the Palestinian civilian population,” he said.
“Over two million Palestinians are on a survival mission every day, every night.”
Under international law, he said, “it is our collective human duty to stop them”.
Al-Maliki warned that more attacks and killings and weapons and alliances will not make Israel safer: “Only peace will.”
“For those actively engaged to avoid an even greater humanitarian catastrophe and regional spillover, it must be clear that this can only be achieved by putting an immediate end to the Israeli war launched against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip,” he said. “Stop the bloodshed.”
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres had opened the monthly meeting on the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict — which has turned into a major event with ministers from the war’s key parties and a dozen other countries flying to New York — warning that “the situation in the Middle East is growing more dire by the hour”.
The UN chief said the risk of the war spreading through the region is increasing as societies splinter and tensions threaten to boil over.
He called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to deliver desperately needed food, water, medicine and fuel. He also appealed “to all to pull back from the brink before the violence claims even more lives and spreads even farther”.
Guterres stressed that the rules of war must be obeyed.
He said the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify “the horrifying and unprecedented October 7 acts of terror” by Hamas in Israel and demanded the immediate release of all hostages.
But Guterres also stressed that “those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people”.
He expressed deep concern at “the clear violations of international humanitarian law”, calling Israel’s constant bombardment of Gaza and the level of destruction and civilian casualties “alarming”.
Protecting civilians “is paramount in any armed conflict”, he said.
Without naming Hamas, the UN chief stressed that “protecting civilians can never mean using them as human shields”.
Guterres also criticised Israel without naming it, saying: “Protecting civilians does not mean ordering more than one million people to evacuate to the south, where there is no shelter, no food, no water, no medicine and no fuel, and then continuing to bomb the south itself.”
Cohen criticised the secretary-general’s remarks. After being told by a reporter that Guterres stood by his statement, the Israeli minister said: “There is no cause for this, and shame on him.”
Israel’s UN ambassador Gilad Erdan went further, taking issue especially with Ms Guterres’s statement that it is important to recognise that “the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum”.
He accused the secretary-general of having lost “all morality and impartiality” and called for his resignation.
The US is pushing for the adoption of a resolution that would condemn the Hamas attacks in Israel and violence against civilians, and reaffirm Israel’s right to self-defence. There were some expectations that it might go to a vote on Tuesday, but diplomats said it was still being negotiated.
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